Poland Wins at Naples?

Now that the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Naples of last weekend – part of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) for ratifying the draft Constitutional Treaty – is in the past, we transition to after-the-fact assessments. For this, why not go to Poland, one country that had a clear issue at stake at Naples, namely the retention it desires (together with Spain) of the voting-weights for the European Council set down in the 2000 Nice Treaty? Yes, this was one of the two big, knotty issues that was to be deferred for handling at the Brussels summit coming up on the 12th and 13th of December – but, to hear the Polish press tell it, there were plenty of developments at Naples on the “Nice question” nonetheless.

For once let’s start out with a contribution from Zycie Warszawy, entitled Lucky Thirteen.

Why “Lucky Thirteen”? Because thirteen among the twenty-five current-and-future EU members now allegedly support the Polish/Spanish position of keeping the Nice Treaty voting arrangements. So even though the issue was not supposed to be on the agenda, it’s apparent that Naples was nonetheless the scene of some heavy lobbying from the Polish/Spanish side to shore up its supporters on the issue and gain new ones.

(Let’s cut away here, though, to the country-by-country calculations of where each of the EU member-states stands on this question provided by Gazeta Wyborcza. These show that Poland and Spain at this point can count on the support of only six other current-or-future member-states for their position: Malta, Estonia, the UK, Sweden, Slovakia, and Cyprus (maybe), although it is true that a further seven are listed as indifferent either way – but that doesn’t mean “support.” By the way, the very fact such a “box score” would appear in a major Polish paper shows the extent to which national attention is focused on this particular issue – admittedly, to the degree it is focused on the IGC at all.)

Could it be that those on the other side failed to engage in counter-lobbying because they were lulled into complacency by the issue supposedly not being on the Naples agenda? No: that “other side” is headed by Germany and France, which are EU members of too much long-standing and importance to make such an amateur’s mistake. Then again, take another look: “Germany and France,” the two member-states not too well-loved these days, because of the way they succeeded in shrugging off the fines they were supposed to suffer for violating the euro’s Growth and Stability Pact. According to Zycie Warszawy writer Karolina Wozniak, that controversy of earlier last week cast its baleful shadow here again. The mere two votes’ difference in Council voting (27 to 29) between Poland and Spain and the Union’s biggest nations have under Nice may seem laughingly illogical from the point-of-view of relative populations. Nonetheless, the idea of giving back to those largest nations the voting superiority that the size of their populations should entitle them to is steadily losing popularity among other member-states, given the way the two biggest countries showed that they were willing to run roughshod over treaty agreements.

Besides, an intriguing compromise for this issue (remember, it’s not on the agenda) came up at Naples, from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Why do we have to decide about these voting arrangements right now, he asked, when even the draft European Constitution which wants to change them will change them only as of 2009. So why don’t we just wait and make the decision about whether to retain the Nice arrangements or not at some future point, closer to 2009? We’ll be able to see in the meantime whether they really work. Poland can certainly go along with that (indeed, by some accounts Poland already had proposed this itself), and so can the Italians, desperate to find any sort of acceptable compromise solutions to the Constitution’s remaining intractable issues.

By the way, Zycie Warszawy also reports that it is likely that there will be a reference to Europe’s Christian values in the Constitution. You’ll recall that this is the opposite of what we read in the Danish press, as reported there by Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller.


Similarly-optimistic coverage is provided by Rzeczpospolita in its article The Scales Are Tipping to Our Side, although the photo at the top of the column gives a good hint at how strained the negotiations at Napes were for all involved. (Is Italian foreign minster Franco Frattini actually about to bite off Spanish foreign minister Anna Palacio’s finger in frustration?!) Yes, “Nice” was not supposed to be discussed at Naples – but pressure from Poland and Spain instead convinced the Italians to put it back on the agenda. As Rzeczpospolita reports, at that point everybody was thinking “Here we go again,” expecting just the usual boring reiteration of national positions, like they had had the pleasure to experience, for example, at that Brussels summit of mid-October. Instead, there was a surprise, although it happened in front of journalists instead of at the formal session itself: Jack Straw asking “Why do we have to decide now?”, and asserting that “many” of the member-states supported the delay in the decision that he was proposing. With that, the momentum for his compromise proposal (or rather refusal to decide now) became seemingly unstoppable (although, in that red side-bar to the lower-left, Rzeczpospolita quotes the German Süddeutsche Zeitung’s opinion that what Straw did “verges on sabotage”).

At the bottom of that Rzeczpospolita article is to be found Jedrzej Bielecki’s commentary, entitled “The Polish Strategy Starts to Appeal.” Poland gained at Naples the support of Great Britain on the Nice voting-arrangements question; it also gained the support of numerous smaller EU countries. Previously France and Germany had tried to depict Poland, from its stubborn position over Nice, as a maverick country ready to destroy carefully-built European structures in pursuit of its own narrow national interest. But now those smaller countries – and everybody else – has seen that that characterization is a bit more applicable to France and Germany themselves, given their behavior over the stipulations of the Stability Pact.

Poland seems to have won the point, and that’s all the more remarkable a success in that it has been achieved against the opposition of the EU’s two most powerful members. But for Europe as a whole it will only be a success when the three countries (presumably Germany, France, and Poland) show themselves able to work together in mutual recognition of each country’s vital national interests.

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