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Europe

Poland Says No Easy Answer on EU Constitution

The future of the draft constitution for the EU largely depends on how Poland responds to compromise suggestions on the issue of voting rights, but the Polish government says compromise won't be easy.

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Poland's problems with the constitution haven't been solved yet.

The European Union still doesn't have a draft text of its new constitution, and that's largely due to Polish intransigence on the issue of voting rights in the enlarged bloc. The last EU summit in Brussels -- aimed at hammering out the text of the new document -- collapsed after Spain and Poland fought to hang on to the disproportionate voting weight it won under the 2000 Nice Treaty. Under that agreement, both Spain and Poland got 27 votes, compared to 29 for Germany, whose population is bigger than that of the two countries combined.

Since then, the new pro-European Spanish government has signalled its acceptance of the new "double majority" voting system proposed in the draft charter, which says most decisions should be taken by a majority of member states representing 60 percent of the bloc's population. So all eyes are now on Poland to see how willing it is to compromise with Brussels now that it's an official EU member.

Constitution deal in sight

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said although Poland hasn't ruled out acceptance of the double majority system, it still wants a system closer to the Nice Treaty. He said Poland will consider whatever compromise solution the Irish government puts forward at the next EU summit in June.

"We still believe that it's possible to have the issue resolved by the end of June, before the Irish presidency expires," said Cimoszewicz. "But I also don't want to create the illusion that it's going to be easy, or that the problem is already solved -- it isn't."

Cimoszewicz added that Poland will likely hold a referendum on the EU constitution, though in order to guarantee the 50 percent voter participation needed for the result to be valid, he said the referendum would probably be held along with presidential elections in the fall of 2005. "That could mean that debate about domestic matters gets mixed up with debate about the constitution," he warned. " While it may not be the best solution, it's the most practical solution to guarantee a valid result."

Staying the course in Iraq

The EU constitution is just one of the issues that has made Poland the subject of keen observation among many of the old EU member states. Poland has also been facing questions on the future of its peacekeeping mission in Iraq following the pullout of Spanish troops. Poland, which defied large EU states such as France and Germany to become a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, has about 2,400 troops in Iraq and commands a multinational force in a south-central part of the country.

Despite flagging public support among Poles for their country's involvement in Iraq, Cimoszewicz said the Polish government isn't considering bringing its soldiers home. "We decided to send troops for very important reasons," he said. "It was very important for the quality of our transatlantic relations, for our own security strategy, and for the future of Iraqis. And nothing has changed there."

Reconciliation with Germany

Umarmung auf der Grenzbr�cke

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, right, and his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, left, embrace at midnight to May 1, 2004 on the bridge between Frankfurt/Oder and Slubice in Poland.

Closer to home, Poland is looking for ways to improve relations with its neighbor Germany. On the eve of enlargement, Cimoszewicz embraced his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, on the bridge linking the Polish town of Slubice with Frankfurt-an-der-Oder on the German side. The gesture was meant to mark the end of animosities that have tainted relations in the border region in the decades following Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939. But old prejudices persist, especially among the older generations. People living in the region admit there's not much cross-border contact. That's something Cimoszewicz hopes to change.

"Everyone in Germany and Poland who has contributed somehow to the reconciliation between our nations in the last few years needs to stand up to the extremists on both sides, and show them that those views won't be tolerated anymore." Cimoszewicz said.

Cimoszewicz stressed the importance of interaction between the young Germans and Poles, who are less burdened by the past. He added that he and Fischer are in agreement that there should be sponsored dialogues at least twice a year where journalists, academics, young people, and other groups of citizens are invited to discuss a range of topics, and in this way, forge closer ties.

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