All for One and One for All? Europe Divided on How to Unite

First it was the Euro-skeptics. Now, those in favor of a more integrated European Union are threatening to veto the new draft treaty -- if the UK and other nay-sayers get their way. With leaders assembling in Brussels on Thursday, time is running out.


A life-size placard of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski is displayed amongst placards of other EU leaders in Brussels in advance of the crucial summit on Thursday.
REUTERS

A life-size placard of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski is displayed amongst placards of other EU leaders in Brussels in advance of the crucial summit on Thursday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as current European Union president, has spent the last few weeks trying to cajole dissenters, such as Poland and the UK, into agreeing to a new European Treaty to replace the defunct constitution. But while the Eurosceptics have been attracting all the attention, now those in favor of further integration are also threatening to play hardball. Both Spain and Luxembourg have raised the specter of using their vetoes -- not if the treaty goes too far but if it doesn’t go far enough.

EU diplomats are now faced with reaching agreement on 15 outstanding objections to the so-called "draft mandate," an 11-page blueprint presented by Germany to the 27 member states on Tuesday. The European leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to try to hammer out a final deal on how to make the bloc work more effectively. Now some German officials are trying to dampen expectations, while the tone across Europe is getting decidedly undiplomatic.

The remaining sticking points include the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the role of an EU foreign minister, and voting rights. While the main blocker in the run up to the summit has been Poland, which has threatened to scupper the deal with its veto, the UK, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are other countries who have voiced serious misgivings.

The conflict over EU voting rights, explained.
DER SPIEGEL

The conflict over EU voting rights, explained.

Poland has calld for a change to the proposed "double majority" voting system, which is says favors larger countries, particularly Germany. Great Britain doesn’t want to hand over any sovereignty over foreign and defence policy to the EU, or to allow the Charter of Fundamental Rights have any influence on its own legal system, while the Netherlands want a greater say for national parliaments.

Spain and Luxembourg, however, are now threatening not to sign up to any deal that makes too many changes to the original constitution.

The amount of unresolved issues, means that diplomats are expecting the meeting to go on well into the early hours of Saturday and one thing people can agree on is that a deal is far from guaranteed.

Germany Dampening Expectations

The EU member states are attemping to reach agreement on an alternative to the European constitution, which was ratified by 18 countries, but killed off when France and the Netherlands voted against it in referenda in 2005. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has made reviving the treaty a central plank of her six-month presidency of the European Council.

In a letter to the other leaders in advance of the Brussels meeting, Merkel wrote: "The European public now expects us to put the necessary reforms of the union in hand." She goes on: "The time has now come to set out the roadmap for the impending reforms of the treaties."

But a wave of nasty barbs and a ramping up of the rhetoric this week does not exactly point to a harmonious Europe. And it could take all of Merkel's famed diplomatic skills to achieve a break through in Brussels this week. German diplomats at a briefing in Berlin on Wednesday said: "If there's no solution, there's no solution. The world won't end if that happens." And a senior German official told Reuters, "It's impossible to predict success."

Poland's World War II rhetoric

The Poles have been using particularly emotional rhetoric in advance of the summit. Polish Prime Miniser Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Polish radio on Tuesday that his objection to the proposed new voting formula went back to the country's suffering in World War II. According to Thursday's Financial Times, he said: "If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would be today looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million." Poland's current population is 38 million.

But although Warsaw has been the most vociferous opponent of the treaty in recent weeks, it seems to be coming round. The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso phoned Kaczynski on Wednesday and afterwards said "He promised me he would work towards a compromise." Later Kaczynski told Reuters: "We realize we cannot stop the process (of reform) ... that would be too risky for the future." He said there was a 50-50 chance of the summit reaching an agreement.

Now the UK seems to be stepping into its old role as the main Euro spoilsport. Britain fears that a legally binding Charter could take precedence over its Common Law -- unlike the other EU member states, Great Britain does not have a written constitution. Tony Blair this week talked about "red lines" that could not be breached in the negotiations. London is objecting to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, has questioned the role of a single EU foreign minister and does not want to give up British control over justice, foreign policy or tax and benefits arrangements.

British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett is reported to have told a parliamentary committee earlier this week that the rest of the EU was "in denial" over the rejection of the constitution, and cannot adopt a treaty that is too similar to that original text. She is also reported to have complained about the way Germany has prepared for the summit. "There haven't been feverish negotiations and discussions in Europe. I wish there had," she said. "We did assume that there would be a sustained process of dialogue and draft documents. It simply hasn't happened."

Rejecting a Watered-Down Treaty

But the British and Polish attempts to water down the treaty have enraged other countries. Spain is insisting on the establishment of the role of European foreign minister, and the Spanish press reports that the Madrid government is threatening to use its veto on this point.

And Luxembourg is also fuming at the Euro-skeptic saber-rattling in advance of the summit. Speaking on Germany's ZDF channel on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker warned that if the summit failed then the EU could split into a two-speed bloc, with some European states further integrating "without the others."

And in an interview with German daily Die Welt, published on Thursday, he said: "We will do everything we can to get the substance of the old constitution text into the new treaty." And he didn't refrain from flexing tiny Luxembourg's muscles, adding: "If I have the impression that the progresses in the constitutional treaty, which the Luxembourg people voted for, is threatened, then I will have to say No."

smd/ap/reuters/dpa

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