The Berlin-London-Warsaw Disconnect Divided Europe Approaches Summit

It's not just the Poles who are unhappy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's draft European Union treaty. Britain, too, is wary of handing over too much power to Brussels. And the Axis of the Disgruntled may be growing.

For weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as current holder of the rotating EU presidency, has been sticking to a European Union draft treaty which has put her on a direct collision course with President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland.

But with just days to go before an EU summit in Brussels -- one at which Merkel is seeking to get all 27 club members on the same page when it comes to reviving the stillborn constitution -- it looks as though the Warsaw twins aren't the only wary ones.

The British government, in particular, is concerned about Merkel's plan to make the "Charter of Fundamental Rights" legally binding in the new document as it was in the original constitution. Merkel has agreed to a British request to remove the Charter from the new treaty, but wants to have it cross-referenced and made legally binding. Merkel also said on Thursday in Berlin that the EU should be defined in the new treaty as having a "single legal personality."

That language is making incoming British Prime Minister Gordon Brown nervous. Current Prime Minister Tony Blair, who steps down at the end of the month, will be representing London at the summit. But Brown is eager to avoid any language which might require a referendum in Britain. "There can be no ambiguity in this which might unravel over time," a Brown advisor told the British daily the Times on Friday. "The Charter of Fundamental Rights must never have any bearing on the British legal system." London also regards the idea of a "single legal personality" as a step towards handing Brussels greater political power.

When Merkel took over the EU presidency -- which rotates every six months -- in January, she made climate change and the revival of the defunct constitution her priorities. Earlier this year, she managed to get all 27 EU members on board  for a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 20 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. Her dreams of a new EU treaty, however, might have to be toned down.

Another Referendum?

One of the difficulties in the current process, is that 18 EU members have already ratified the treaty. But among those who haven't, there is considerable skepticism about a document that infringes on their sovereign rights or, in the case of Poland, limits their say in the club. In addition to Poland and Britain, the Czech Republic and Denmark are likewise wary of the draft treaty. Furthermore, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France wants to avoid a far-reaching agreement which might require another referendum.

In a Thursday speech to Germany's parliament, Merkel admitted that coming to a consensus on the new document -- which is no longer to be called a "constitution" -- is far from a slam dunk. "A solution is still not in sight," she said. "We want to keep the substance of the treaty without overburdening people."

During a visit by Sarkozy in Warsaw on Thursday, Polish President Lech Kaczynski seemed to indicate that his government might be willing to listen to compromise proposals. But in a Friday interview with the Times, he once again said that Poland might torpedo the EU summit. "Poland has the right to protect its interests," he said. "Cooperation with and within Europe should not be dependent on agreement with Germany."

He went on to indicate that a Polish veto is still on the table. "I do not exclude the possibility…. I'd like this to be a success, but not a success where some come out as winners and others as losers."

Poland is concerned about the new voting system foreseen by the new treaty. Under its "double majority" system, European Council decisions would have to be approved by 55 percent of EU members (at least 15 of 27 states) representing 65 percent of the European population. According to this formula, Poland would have approximately six votes out of 100 as compared to 17 for Germany, which has a population 2.5 times greater than Poland. On the other hand, Poland's proposed "square root" system -- which hasn't yet been fully explained -- would result in an electoral boost for Poland relative to Germany.

"That is already a compromise," Kaczynski told the Times. According to a survey published on Friday in the newspaper Dziennik, fully 49 percent of Poles would support a Warsaw veto at the EU summit next week with only 29 percent wanting their government to show a greater willingness to compromise.

'Cosmetic Changes'

Kaczynski is banking on support from the Czech Republic in his fight against Europe. And on Thursday, it seemed as though he might get it. Czech President Vaclav Klaus went on the offensive by accusing France and Germany of trying to push through the original constitution under a different name. "Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same," Klaus told the Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny.

Klaus has found an unlikely ally in his viewpoint: one of the authors of the original document, former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. In an essay in the French daily Le Monde on Friday, d'Estaing likewise spoke of "cosmetic changes" and said that by pushing through the document as it now stands, "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly." This, he said, was dangerous in that it would reinforce the commonly held impression of EU bureaucrats in Brussels working behind closed doors.

He also said that "if governments agree on a simplified treaty preserving the essential institutional advances, they should not be afraid to say and write so."

cgh/dpa

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