Poland Set to Derail EU IGC?

I’m back home, and back in business. And just a quick note for that subset of my clientele concerned (as am I) about the best Internet café in Prague: Unfortunately, the one I mentioned at the Narodni Galerie on Dukelskych hrdinu will shut down for good at the beginning of the week of 5 October. There were always free terminals to be had there, yes; but a normally welcome fact like that can also eventually backfire, when those in charge evaluate whether the facility is bringing in enough revenue to justify its existence.

The big event coming up soon from the EuroSavant perspective is the EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) for evaluating and (probably) amending, prior to official submission for approval to the 25 EU governments, the draft Constitution submitted last June by the European Constitutional Convention. One major thread to this story, it seems to me, is the hard line that the Polish government is taking in the run-up to this IGC, making its various demands for changes to the draft document clear and threatening to veto the whole process if it doesn’t get them. I noted this only obliquely in a recent entry which discussed the controversy over the proposed German “Center Against Expulsions” memorial for Berlin. But with the ICG due to start tomorrow, it’s time to zero-in on the topic – and fortunately, Le Monde’s new correspondent for Poland, Christophe Châtelot, does exactly that with what is his first dispatch in his new assignment, an article entitled Poland Goes on the Assault against Future European Institutions.

Yes, it’s a provocative title, but Le Monde is not known for tabloid-like, sensationalist come-ons to its readers. Indeed, Châtelot offers a shrewd appraisal of Poland’s approach to the IGC which bodes well for his future work as the newspaper’s Poland correspondent. As the largest of the EU’s new members by far, Poland’s demands can hardly be ignored (unfortunately, it’s doubtful that the demands of any of the EU’s 25 present or future members can be ignored at the IGC, even Cyprus’), and Châtelot lists the main ones at the very beginning of his piece: the inclusion in the preamble to the EU Constitution of an explicit reference to Europe’s religious values; the sidelining of any European defense initiative not formed around NATO; “one nation, one Commissioner”; and the retention of the national voting distribution in the Council of Ministers agreed upon back in December, 2000, at the EU summit at Nice.

In fact, it’s “Nice or Death,” according to Châtelot for the entire Polish political class, and this one issue encapsulates well the sheer cussedness of the Polish attitude. Under “Nice,” or rather the voting distribution agreed there, somehow both Spain and Poland won allocations for their national votes in the Council of Ministers which rather generously exceed both countries’ actual population totals related to total EU population. (In Poland’s case, her votes also exceed extremely her share of GDP as related to total EU GDP, just in case anybody thinks economic power should be a proxy for a nation’s influence within the EU). EU member-states easily fall into one of a couple of categories: the big states, with Germany at their head, joined by France, Italy, and the UK; the small states, consisting of basically eveyone else, except for . . . the middle states, which are Spain and Poland, too big to be “small states,” but also not quite big enough (by population) to join Germany and the rest. Somehow, in the revised vote-allocation that EU heads-of-state came up with at Nice, things got distorted so that those middle states were awarded with more votes than sheer arithmetic would allow them to have. (Maybe it was a result of the all-night sessions, an unavoidable occupational hazard for presidents and prime ministers at such so-called European Councils. By the way, another outcome of Nice was that Germany was denied the largest total of votes it would normally be entitled to – again, by any straightforward calculation – due to its biggest-of-all population; and you don’t hear the Germans complaining now about that.)

Châtelot even quotes one of the Polish negotiators at Nice, one Jan Kulakowski, to the effect that the voting arrangements agreed there were “perhaps too advantageous” for Poland. Unfortunately, he also must quote Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, on the occasion of his visit to Spain (of course) of last Tuesday, that, for him, “the Nice accords are not a subject for discussion” at the IGC. When he was not giving Bundeskanzler Schröder Poland’s negative view of the proposed Center Against Expulsions back on 22 September in Gelsenkirchen, you can be sure that that was the gist of Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s message there, as well. In fact, Miller also had time this past Tuesday for a quick visit to Prague, to shore up the support there for the Polish position in meetings with President Klaus and Prime Minister Spidla.

The Poles have made it clear that they intend to veto the entire Constitution if the Nice arrangement is changed in any way, as the draft Constitution proposes to do. Indeed, Polish representatives may have no other choice than to carry on with this brinkmanship, no matter how many second thoughts they might have about it (not that there’s any evidence they’ve been having any). That’s because “Nice” is now thoroughly familiar to the Polish electorate as well – in fact, it was one argument used to persuade them to vote “Yes” last June in the EU-accession referendum – which expects that its political representatives will manage to preserve it in any EU negotiations. The current SLD minority government, plagued by one corruption scandal after another, and which only has its foreign-affairs performance to point to with any pride, is hardly strong enough politically to disappoint that electorate. Even if it did, there is sure to be a referendum in Poland on the final-form EU Constitution (assuming it ever successfully emerges from the IGC), so that those voters would have a clear opportunity then to express their disfavor and vote “No.”

Polish negotiators therefore seem to be caught in a bind; they don’t dare return home without either having attained their objectives, particularly “Nice,” or having torn the whole edifice down in failure through a veto. Our old friend Jan Kulakowski is worried (Châtelot’s article doesn’t mention whether he is in fact on the Polish negotiating team this time in Rome): “The ICG has to offer Poland some exit. Perhaps it will be necessary to delay decisions about voting arrangements until later. One mustn’t isolate [Poland] and force her to use the veto.”

In fact, there just may be an out. It seems that, of all the ten states scheduled to become formal EU members, Poland is by far the furthest behind when it comes to implementing political, social, and economic measures necessary to be completely within required EU norms (the famous acquis communautaire) by the time it enters the EU next May. Already this year the government in Warsaw has received two letters from the Commission in Brussels warning it of the tasks that it still is obligated to do. These range from regulation of the Polish fishing fleet to guaranteeing the independence of the Polish courts – not to mention the independence of the Polish central bank, once beyond question but now back under doubt, in light of a new “administrative council” to appear at the beginning of next year to help “guide” its policies and so presumably increase the government’s influence on them.

Still, Châtelot notes, the Poles are famous for doing everything at the last minute anyway. The European Commission is not truly worried yet that Poland will fail to do what it is supposed to do by May, 2004. At the same time, it’s certainly a rather incongruous posture for a new member-state to take: delinquent in its obligations to bring itself in line with the acquis communautaire, yet at the same time completely hard-line in its insistence that it get what it wants from the Constitutional IGC. If there is any remnant sense of propriety or shame left among Polish negotiators in Rome, perhaps those negotiators will ultimately not have the sort of threatening impact on the IGC’s proceedings that many have feared.

Now that we’re welcoming a new correspondent in Poland for Le Monde, whose initial work certainly offers encouragement for further good things to come, it’s probably also worthwhile to take a quick look at his accompanying article – particularly since it concerns the city where astute €S readers will remember that I spent the past month of July, Wroclaw. The piece is entitled City of Those Uprooted by the War, Wroclaw Faces Towards the West with Confidence. The message is straightforward: Wroclaw inhabitants voted massively in favor of accession to the EU in last June’s referendum, even though the vast majority of them are from families which didn’t live in the city before 1945 (when it was the German “Breslau”) but which were instead relocated there from Polish lands further east which were then in the process of being appropriated by the Soviet Union.

The article has some humorous mentions of older Wroclaw citizens hurriedly checking with their lawyers to make sure that, once Poland is in the EU, the Germans from before 1945 (or, more likely, their descendants) can’t simply show up and demand their property back – you know, those same Germans who have been regularly visiting the city since 1989, asking if they could see their family house again, their place of birth. And the rumor with which Châtelot starts his article, namely that some residents in the suburbs have simply stopped maintaining their properties, out of fear of imminent re-appropriation by the Germans, turns out to be simply not true. There are shacks to be found in the suburbs, to be sure; but they are generally construction shacks connected to the massive rebuilding of buildings, roads, and other infrastructure that is still going on in Wroclaw, often with the aid of EU funds. “There’s a German problem in Wroclaw, all right,” says Wroclaw mayor Rafal Dutkiewic, ironically. “Their investments here are not yet numerous enough, and the ‘memory tourism’ is likely to soon disappear. We need to attract the young people.”

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