Poland parties back govt's hard line on EU voting system

By bne IntelliNews June 15, 2007

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -

Poland's squabbling political parties have united behind the government in demanding that the upcoming European Union summit consider Poland's controversial demand to revamp the EU's voting system.

"In this matter we are united," said Donald Tusk, the leader of the main opposition party, the Civic Platform, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Polish prime minister - two men who have hardly shaken hands in the last few months because of the depth of their political antagonism.

Poland's parliament voted Friday to declare its support for the government's position, with only the ex-communist left voting against. The left had been in charge when the constitution was accepted and when Poland joined the EU in 2004.

That is likely to make Warsaw even less likely to bend to the will of the 25 EU member states which do not want to reopen the Pandora's box of voting weights, currently settled under the rejected constitutional treaty.

"Poland sees no need to accept the solution written into the text of the European constitution, in other words the double majority system," said Kaczynski. "There is no justification besides the fact that some countries like it because it strengthens their position, while others are weakened, namely Poland. That is something we cannot accept."

The voting system in the constitution allows laws to be passed by the Council of Ministers if supported by at least 55% of the EU's 27 members with at least 65% of its population. That would replace the system agreed to in the Nice Treaty, which is widely acknowledged to be unfair, under which Germany, the UK, France and Italy each have 29 votes, while Poland and Spain, each with half of Germany's population, have 27 votes.

The Polish proposal is to peg each country's voting weight to the square root of its population. That would give Germany, with 82m people, about nine votes, while Poland, with 38m, would have about six votes. Warsaw says this system is fairer because it lessens the dominance of the biggest countries, particularly Germany.

But other European countries worry that by reopening the issue of voting weights, other compromises over the number of commissioners allotted to each country, or the number of seats allocated in the European parliament – both of which favour smaller countries over larger ones – could come unravelled.

Dropping in

European leaders like France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Spain's Jose Luis Zapatero have travelled to Warsaw to try and get Kaczynski and his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, to give way.

Although the prime minister had said that the chances of a compromise had grown slightly following Sarkozy's visit, his foreign minister, Anna Fotyga, made it clear Poland would reject any voting system that moves far from the principles of Nice.

Polish voters appear to approve of the Kaczynskis' hard line. Although Poles are among the most pro-EU countries, with polls regularly showing that 80% support membership, a new survey shows that 49% support Jaroslaw Kaczynski's threat to veto the summit if Poland does not get its way, while only 28% are opposed. Overall, 43% support the prime minister's position of pushing the square root proposal and only 29% are opposed.

But Poland goes into the Brussels summit with very little diplomatic support. So far, only the Czech Republic has declared that it backs Warsaw.

"We are not entirely happy with the voting system as it has been proposed," said Karel Schwartzenberg, the Czech foreign minister.

But with Germany reportedly trying to pry Prague away from Warsaw, there is growing fear that Poland will be alone in Brussels, something the Kaczynskis say they do not fear but which many worry could end up hurting Poland's position in Europe.

"It's not really worth dying for the square root because the position of a country in the EU doesn't really depend on the number of votes, it's more on the ability to form coalitions and make yourself understood," says Dariusz Rosati, a former Polish foreign minister and current Euro MP who does not support the government's position.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former Polish president who oversaw Poland's entry into the EU, worries that obstructionism by Poland could cause a core group of West European countries to try and build a two-speed Europe, leaving troublesome newcomers like Poland on the outside.

But for now the government is determined to push on with the square root, convinced that it can persuade other mid-sized EU countries to join with it during the summit.

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