Diplomatic Offensive Against a Warsaw Veto Poland Blocking New EU Treaty

The European Union is facing a crisis: As leaders prepare for a summit next week to discuss reviving the stalled EU constitution, Poland is threatening to use its veto unless the new voting system is renegotiated. EU leaders are worried.

Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski says he will use Poland's veto to block a new EU treaty.

Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski says he will use Poland's veto to block a new EU treaty.

European leaders are embarking on a campaign of not so gentle persuasion this week. And a lot is on the line. They are hoping to revive the stalled EU constitution amid Polish threats to scupper the whole process.

The twin Polish leaders, President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, are threatening to use Warsaw's veto unless other EU leaders agree to discuss their proposals for a new voting system within the 27-member bloc.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, current holder of the European Union rotating presidency, is now trying to persuade Poland to agree to a compromise before the next EU summit on June 21-22. "Everyone must be prepared to compromise a little," she said on Monday. "In that regard I will speak with Polish officials at the end of the week and I hope that we will have a good summit."

The President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering called on Poland to refrain from blocking the treaty. "Poland is going to push Europe into a crisis," he said on Monday, adding: "Poland would harm itself the most if it uses this veto."

But the Poles seem be emulating former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher's approach to negotiations with Brussels, namely dig in your heels and don't budge. The Polish prime minister said Monday that it would take "one year" to negotiate a new treaty. "We do not subscribe to the idea of trying to resolve important issues about Europe's future in a few days," Kaczynski said in Warsaw.

Sarkozy and Zapatero Join the Diplomatic Drive

Merkel isn’t the only one trying to woo the Poles. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Louis Zapatero are heading to Warsaw later this week to discuss the issue with Polish leaders. And Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer made his way to Warsaw on Monday to meet with Jaroslaw Kaczynski. After the meeting he said the country should support the new treaty as a sign of solidarity and recognition of the bloc's support for Poland in its trade row with Russia. "The constitution is a symbol of compromise … we cannot risk another year of discussions about it."

Next Sunday evening the 27 EU foreign ministers are due to meet for the last round of negotiations before the summit, at which Germany is hoping to unveil a " road map" for a relaunched constitution. Merkel wants EU leaders to agree which parts of the treaty can be salvaged and which rejected. France and the Netherlands voted against the original treaty in referenda in 2005, but 18 other member states have already accepted it.

France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants a simplified treaty that could be put to the French parliament for approval. And Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are all calling for a less ambitious treaty, one with no constitutional elements. If all goes to plan the new treaty could be ratified by 2009.

A New Voting System is 'Worth Dying For'

That is unless Poland insists on being the spanner in the works by using its veto. "We have the right to use it (the veto) and we will do it if we believe that it is in our country's or Europe's interests," Kaczynski said after meeting the Austrian chancellor on Monday.

Poland is opposed to the new qualified majority voting system, arguing that it favors big countries like Germany. The system calls for a double majority representing at least 55 percent of the EU member states and at least 65 percent of the EU population. Even though the system gives Poland relatively generous voting rights -- 27 votes compared to Germany's 29 -- it would rather see votes calculated based on a country's inhabitants in relation to its surface area, the so-called "square root system." Prime Minister Kaczynski has even said it is a system "worth dying for."

In Berlin and other European capitals there is increased resentment about this obstinacy. And there are now growing suspicions among EU officials that the Poles could be deliberately blocking a solution to the treaty problems under Germany's leadership.



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