Poland: The IGC Scorecard So Far

We’ve seen Dutch premier Balkenende travel to Warsaw to try to break some of the stalemates blocking progress at the EU’s Constitutional Intergovernmental Conference (IGC): no dice. On Sunday, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin basically tried the same thing, visiting Warsaw himself to have talks with Polish foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, according to a report in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Over Iraq they had a lot to agree about, namely the necessity in light of the recent wave of attacks there, to accelerate the involvement of Iraqis in the political process. About the EU’s Nice Treaty, and the overly-advantageous voting arrangements for both Poland and Spain enshrined there, there was no progress, in talks said to have taken place in a “tense atmosphere.” Meanwhile, European Commissioner for Enlargement Günther Verheugen, speaking to the German newspaper Handelsblatt (quoted in this Gazeta article), declared that the EU had no room to maneuver when it came to altering the Nice Treaty. Poland and Spain, Verheugen proclaimed, “bear the risk of responsibility for a constitutional fiasco.” Cimoszewicz responded to this to the effect that that must have been Verheugen’s private opinion only, since as a Commissioner he has no mandate to comment on constitutional issues which are decided not by the Commission but by the Council (i.e. national representatives). He added: “I also see no room for maneuver on the Polish side.”

On this issue the Poles might even be gaining confidence, as Gazeta reported today that, of all countries, Sweden has taken Poland’s and Spain’s side in seeking to retain the Nice Treaty arrangements (Sweden Joins the Circle of Poland’s Allies in Defense of the Nice Treaty).

By the way, if this true, then Sweden is also joining Estonia and Malta in that camp. Why would Estonia and Malta be in favor of Nice? It’s all tactical, explains Gazeta in this graphic; these two minnow countries are so concerned to push through “one country, one Commissioner” that, in order to nail down Polish and Spanish support, in exchange they are on the side of Poland and Spain when it comes to Nice.

Back to the bigger question: Why would Sweden now throw its support to Poland and Spain? There are a couple of reasons given in the article: because the Nice Treaty itself was so difficult to come agree on (which is certainly true – it involved at least two days’ worth of non-stop, no-sleep negotiations), that it would be a shame to cancel some of its key provisions; because this stand-off over that treaty threatens to derail the entire IGC, so let’s just give in to Poland and Spain; and because, ultimately, maybe Sweden can put up with over-representation for these two countries in EU votes, because that at least will tend to reduce the traditional dominance of France and Germany.

For our final look today at Gazeta Wyborcza, we would not want to miss its article (Announced Amendments to the EU Constitution Project), based upon a document leaked to the newspaper, which summarizes the amendments to the draft Constitution the various EU (present/future) member-states have proposed so far at the IGC. (Although in places it reads a bit too much like a tedious “laundry list,” but that was my problem, not yours.)

So much for the fond hope of the EU’s founding members that the draft could just be left alone and passed unchanged; the proposed amendments total some 100, aimed at 60 different articles of that draft Constitution. Keep in mind, though, that many are either of a technical or editorial nature. Perhaps among the later we can include the proposed changes to the Constitution’s preamble – although everyone does seem to be taking that preamble rather seriously. At this point there are at least nine countries that want to see some mention of Christian (or else “Judeo-Christian”) values in that text, while Hungary (supported by Austria and Italy, with Slovakia explicitly against) wants further reference to “protecting national and ethnic minorities,” while Sweden wants to insert language about the “equality of men and women.”

Highlights elsewhere in the document: Slovakia wants to institute a Euro-wide referendum process; the Dutch and the British want further clarification as to the legal force of the “Bill of Fundamental Rights”; the British, Irish, and Slovaks don’t want to see the establishment of a Europe-wide prosecutor’s office, while the Austrians, Czechs, and Latvians want to limit any such office’s mandate. And so on – there are even amendments submitted by Romania and Bulgaria, which are not even assured yet of ever entering the EU (they’re provisionally slated to do so in 2007): they want to fix right now, legally, how many votes in the European Council and how many Members of the European Parliament they will be allocated.

Moving over to Rzeczpospolita, today’s edition has an article discussing the likelihood that Poland will in fact end up getting two seats on the European Commission (Two Commissioners from Poland). What this really means is that the stand that most original EU members had taken (as well as the draft Constitution itself) to keep the number of voting Commissioners at fifteen, in order to preserve the Commission’s ability to function, effectively is now dead in the face of the pressure for “one country, one Commissioner.” So France and Germany, in particular, have gone to their back-up position: “one country, one Commissioner, but the big countries continue to get two.” In other words, they’re saying that if you really want to make the Commission a big, overloaded mess, well then, let’s at least go all the way. Under this plan the Commission will end up with 31 voting members.

It is already clear within the Polish political scene who the two Polish Commissioners will be – namely Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and Danuta Hübner, if you’re interested, and the latter is Poland’s current European Affairs Minister anyway. More significantly than the particular names is the fact that this means there will be one Commissioner from the governing party (Danuta Hübner, naturally) and one from the opposition. This is a pattern that all the large countries with two Commissioners adhere to – except for Germany, where one is SPD (Verheugen) and the other is a Green.

For me, the really surprising thing about Rzeczspospolita’s report is this: offering Poland its second Commissioner was supposed to be part of a grand compromise, a quid pro quo prompting it to drop all that stuff about insisting on Nice for voting allocation. But there is no mention of any such concession in the article! There is mention in a brief commentary piece appended at the end, by Jedrzej Bielecki, entitled “Not At Any Price” – but in the opposite sense! Bielecki’s point is that Poland should not agree to accept the new voting arrangements in exchange for a second Commissioner. This would mean sacrificing “real governmental authority for prestige.” He rightly points out how ridiculous the Commission is going to be under the new compromise creating 31 Commissioners – many of whom will likely end up being just “fifth wheels” (that’s my translation of his phrase na doczepke, which more precisely means “just hooked on”). Why would Poland give up its voting rights for any more of that?

In sum, the hard-headedness of Polish officials in continuing to insist on the Nice Treaty continues to amaze. It is even gaining them “don’t fight them, just switch” allies like the Swedes (if Gazeta Wyborcza’s account of the Swedish shift is accurate; I guess we’ll see soon enough once negotiations resume).

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