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Warsaw's Logic

Nadine Wojcik (ncy)
June 20, 2007

Poland seemed to have softened its public tone on the eve of a crucial EU treaty summit, but concerns run deep in the country about not being taken seriously for plans to change the bloc's reformed voting system.

The Kaczynski's are unpredictable, Polish observers sayImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The Polish government had indeed already signed the EU constitutional treaty, in 2004. Three years and a change of government later, however, Warsaw's trying to undo the hard-found compromise.

"Nice or death" was the Polish government's approach in 2003, when the EU member states started negotiating a bloc-wide treaty. The bone of contention then, as now, was the double-majority voting system. The Treaty of Nice gave Poland -- a country of 38 million -- more votes, nearly as many as Germany, with its 82 million people.

Poland's insistence on sticking to the Treaty of Nice ultimately led to isolation. The then Social Democratic government in Warsaw finally gave in and signed, in 2004. However, after the failed referendums on the draft constitution in France and the Netherlands last year, Poland dropped its endorsement of the paper.

Ever since Germany started preparing the ground for a new EU constitution, an institutional treaty as they have started calling it, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's president and prime minister respectively, have been threatening to veto. Their demands concern one individual point: the double-majority voting system in the European Council, the EU's top decision-making body, should be dropped in favor of a square-root principle.

Allocating votes to countries on that basis would reduce the influence of the EU's biggest countries -- in particular that of Germany. There's no mistaking the reproachful tone of Warsaw's arguments implying that Berlin dominates the EU.

Anti-German sentiment

"We aren't so afraid of the Germans," Poland's chief negotiator, Marek Cichocki, told DW-WORLD.DE. "If we were so afraid of them, would we propose a rule that still concedes the Germans more votes than the Poles?"

Rather, the Poles were concerned with establishing a generally more fair voting system, Cichocki said.

Polish EU expert Jacek Pawlicki, a commentator at Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, conceded that Cichocki's argument was understandable. However, he pointed out, the debate in Poland had been marked by increasing anti-German sentiment.

"Most Poles don't fully understand what the issue is," Pawlicki said. "But they sense that it's about increasing the Poles' influence, and thus, the majority naturally approves."

In their collective memory, the Poles are haunted by having been deceived and betrayed in the past. The Kaczynski twins know how to capitalize on those fears and are neither put off by a worsening of relations to Germany nor by isolation within the EU.

Isolation is not at all an issue, said Cichocki. Instead, he said he felt that, in the course of the discussion about the voting system, public opinion in Europe had already changed. "Many listen intently to our proposals and understand our problem."

Europe annoyed?

"The Unloved Neighbors -- How the Poles Irritate Europe" was, however, the title of this week's edition of Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine. Even if some commentators and political scientists see promise in the Polish square-root proposal, Warsaw's threat to veto has riled some. Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a German member of the European Parliament, even went so far as to suggest that the Poles ought to consider getting out of the EU.

"If a country in the EU doesn't feel good than you should tell it: If you don't like it, there's this possibility," she said.

Cichocki rebuffs the attacks, calling Koch-Mehrin's a "reckless idea." "Such suggestions are entirely unnecessary."

The question is whether Warsaw will agree to a compromise. "That's hard to say," said Cichocki. "This summit has its own logic and this logic is only foreseeable up to a certain standpoint."

Wait and see

Polish politics also has a certain logic, according to Jan Barcz, a professor of European law in Warsaw. "No independent expert in Poland at the moment can say how the Kaczynski brothers will behave in the negotiations. Their politics are simply unpredictable."

For now, Prime Minister Kaczynski hinted that Warsaw might be willing to budge in an interview with Germany's Bild-Zeitung newspaper, published on Wednesday, the day before the two-day summit opens.

Poland's proposal didn't necessarily have to lead to a deadlock in the talks, he said. "At the moment we only want a debate to be allowed (at the summit) on the voting system."

But he also told the paper, "They are trying to isolate and ignore Poland. We cannot agree to that. That would be suicide," he said.

EU Verfassung in der Sackgasse, Symbolbild
Warsaw says it doesn't want to cause deadlock at the summitImage: dpa
Merkel und Polens Ministerpräsident Kaczynski
Merkel and Kaczynski could well be up for some long nights together during the summitImage: AP

Britain too is seeking to water down proposals for a common European foreign and security policy. London and Warsaw's positions are seen as the chief obstacles to acheiving a deal on the treaty.

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