Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Stroke… and counter-stroke

In what is clearly a move to counter the fall-out from the British announcement to postpone the ratification of the EU constitution, Polish foreign minister Adam Rotfeld has come out strongly declaring that the constitution is still alive.

According to a report from AFX (via Forbes), Rotfield told a press conference in Warsaw yesterday that: "The position taken by the British does not change anything."

This followed a "high-level meeting" of Polish officials to reflect on tactics, when Rotfield added: "The British have delayed the ratification process, not renounced the treaty. The constitutional treaty is not dead."

Additional detail from Reuters confirms that the Poles are standing by plans to hold a referendum, which may now be on 9 October, alongside the first round of Polish presidential elections.

"The French, Dutch or British cannot make the decision for us," Rotfeld told Reuters. "We should decide for ourselves ... through a referendum," he said. His view was: "Regardless of what happens to the treaty, an unambiguous 'yes' by Poland in favour of European integration given through a referendum will greatly strengthen Poland's position."

His deputy, Jan Truszczynski, had earlier called on Britain to keep the constitution alive ahead of votes over the treaty by other EU members, telling Radio TOK FM that it: "should refrain from such a type of declaration ... I expect a reasonable voice, a voice that will not complicate the life of countries who face referendums in the coming months."

Commenting later on the British decision to Radio Polonia, Rotfield displayed no surprise, recalling the British had never been enthusiastic about the document.

On top of the assertion by Juncker that the treaty is not dead, together with last Saturday’s declation by Chirac and Schröder that ratification should continue, powerful forces are now ranged against Blair, which will be almost impossible to defeat at the European Council meeting.

However, despite The Times still playing silly games, reporting "sharp rivalry" between Britain and France, Blair's official spokesman in yesterday's scheduled No. 10 press conference was playing down any suggestion of rift.

Referring to Straw's statement, he said that it was "sensible" to have a "genuine period of reflection" and that "we came to a view and that we took that to the European Council." At the meeting, Blair would "explain that approach and debate it with our colleagues in Europe." He also suggested that there might not be "an overnight solution to the problems identified."

Reflecting the Polish view, about deciding for itself, a Populus poll, carried out for The Times shows that more than half the British public (54 per cent) still think that there should be a referendum here. Only two fifths (40 per cent) believe that it would be pointless to go ahead after last week's French and Dutch votes.

This is despite those oppposing the constitution having doubled from 24 to 50 percent over the past six weeks, with support for the "yes" side dropping from 29 to 18 percent over the same period.

Thus, while it seems that the constitution is very far from dead, the bulk of the British people seem keen to have a go at killing it. It will not only be the "colleagues" at the European Council, therefore, who will be wanting the ratification process to go ahead. Ironically, Blair could find himself not only "isolated in Europe" but isolated from the wishes of British voters.

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