EU puts pressure on Poland as summit deadlock looms

Photo: European Commission

Just days from a European Union summit which is meant to re-launch Europe's much delayed constitutional treaty, Poland is threatening to spoil the party. Warsaw is insisting voting rights be revisited. It wants a system based on the square root of member states' populations. This would mean less power for countries such as France and Germany and Poland retaining more of the influence granted to it under the Treaty of Nice. Poland is prepared use its veto to get its way.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, photo: CTK
As in the case of the Nice Agreements, Poland has again pledged to "die for the cause." This kind of policy seems to leave no room for any negotiations or compromise. That has also been the reason for a number of visits to Warsaw by prominent EU officials and politicians from member countries. Head of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering warned such stuborness would push the EU into a deep crisis, if Poland decides to veto the summit talks on the new treaty. Polish President Lech Kaczynski said the matter is of absolutely primary importance to Poland

"It's worth dying for the (so-called) square root, because no country with self respect could agree to principles which threaten it with greatest losses. Poland stands to lose the most in the new system of voting. So, I'm stating in advance it will not accept such solution. Those who insist on this simply want to torpedo fundamental European relations."

The same point of view has been presented by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the President's twin brother. To the surprise of some observers, the same sentiments have been voiced by many leaders of the opposition, including the Civic Platform (PO). This gives food for thought, as it is not common for their parties to share the conservative Law and Justice government's opinions. Andrzej Bobinski from the Center For International Relations in Warsaw says Poland should refrain from uncompromising opposition to solutions it views as not fully meeting expectations and come out with its own half way proposals.

"Being one of the new member states, we shouldn't be that assertive. We should look for compromises. We shouldn't stand up to the old Fifteen, the big European powers. What would be good is, if we could find some place in between - being assertive, but being able to think about how we can profit most from the situation as a country, as a nation. Because for the moment I see a lot of NOs, but I don't see any YES."

Konrad Schuller, correspondent of the German Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, points to Poland being a tough partner in negotiations.

Photo: European Commission
"Poland has a reputation of being a tough bargainer, of fighting its corner fiercely. We can see from it that Poland will not go home from whatever European negotiations without having acheived something. Whether this something is to be the square root principle, or anything else, remains to be seen. But with this declaration Poland has made it clear to its partners that something has to be given."

Konrad Schuller adds, these tactics also carry the risk of failure, something the Polish government must be aware of. Such disaster would be a blow to Poland and not its European partners who would establish solutions among themselves. This might spell isolation.

Jaroslaw Petz from EuroLex Consultants says one of the basic principles of internal Union tactics applied in securing one's interests.

"All old EU members know, and new EU members learn it, that you can't really defend your own interests being alone. You can't fight on your own. You have to have a group of friends to support you and make your fight common for it. Otherwise, you can't win."

This is definitely something Poland has not managed to attain. Besides vague assurances, the only member country to render official support for the Polish 'square root cause' has been its southern neighbor, the Czech Republic. And that is hardly enough to drive a hard bargain with the remaining 25 EU partners.