Balkenende Tries to Make Poland See Reason

While suicide-bombs explode in Iraq, the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) over the draft EU Constitution goes on. Even though right now there is no actual meeting of government officials occurring, at whatever level, the daunting task still looms of somehow arriving at a Constitution all member-states can agree upon. One can strongly assume that the Italian Foreign Ministry is very busy now in gathering information and making bilateral contacts about how the IGC impassed can be broken. Meanwhile, the draft Constitution is also a topic of discussion as officials from other groups of EU member-states meet.

The Netherlands’ very own premier Jan Peter Balkenende is now on a swing through Eastern Europe, and on Monday he was in Warsaw, meeting with both the Polish president and premier, reports the NRC Handelsblad (Poland Remains Contrary over the EU’s Future).

The article goes point-by-point over the main issues separating the two countries at the IGC, and it seems little progress was made. The big one is of course Poland’s insistence, along with Spain, that the overly-favorable European Council voting-weights it received as a result of the 2000 Nice Treaty be preserved, even as the draft Constitution foresees a new voting arrangement which corresponds more closely to actual population totals. No movement here. (If it’s any consolation, the discussions nonetheless took place in a positive, “outstanding” atmosphere.) The second issue is that Poland is part of that big camp of EU lands that insists on “one country, one vote” in the European Commission, i.e. that every country have a voting Commissioner at all times. Here it wouldn’t be true to say “no progress.” Rather, it seems Balkenende traveled all the way to Poland to lose ground, as he confided to the Polish leaders that, although his cabinet opposes “one country, one vote” since it will weaken the Commissions ability to function, sentiment in the Dutch lower house (Tweede Kamer) apparently is behind “one country, one vote.”

There was considerably more room for agreement on the issue of whether the Constitution’s preamble should make explicit reference to Europe’s heritage of Christian values. But that’s not surprising; Balkenende’s party is the CDA (“Christen Democratisch Appel“), definitely a Christian conservative party, although not so loopy as some of the other, fringe Christian parties in Dutch politics that I have described on these pages before. Or maybe not: it seems that Balkenende has this idea about holding a European conference on waarden en normen – that’s “values and norms.” Waarden en normen has been a recurring slogan in Dutch politics lately, an expression of the general worry about what has happened in recent years to the fundamental values Dutch people live by (as an effect of the increasing number of immigrants in Dutch society, of secularization, of fill-in-the-blank). Now the premier wants to push this theme to the European level; and the current Polish government has no problem with that.

Finally, a little confusion about the mobility of Polish workers once Poland is actually an EU member from next May. Unlike Germany and Austria, the Netherlands had not expressed an intention to take advantage of special conditions attached to the accession of Eastern European countries, which gave current member-states the option to impose temporary ceilings in the numbers of workers from over East that could come work in the West. Balkenende in his remarks seemed to imply that the Dutch cabinet (in the form of state-secretary Rutte of the Ministry of Social Affairs) was still studying this possibility. But later, members of his traveling party “clarified” his remarks to mean that state-secretary Rutte was merely doing what had been planned all along, namely drawing up a law for the Tweede Kamer to pass which will formally set no limit on the numbers of workers from newly-admitted states.

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