Thursday, May 27, 2004

Schröder attempts to bully Poland

Schröder met with "high-ranking Polish officials" in Warsaw yesterday, to urge Poland to support the entire current draft of the constitution, which he said was essential to keep the bloc "politically manageable." He emerged "confident" that a compromise deal could be reached, telling Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski that: "Everyone has to push himself a little."

However, in what could be taken as a hint of menace, Schröder also told the Poles that it was up to all EU members to work towards the June deadline. "The German government is prepared to discuss specific arrangements... but we cannot allow ourselves a fiasco in June," he said. "I assume that we will find a solution in June that is fair and acceptable to all and that takes into account Poland's weight and importance."

Nevertheless, Deutsche Welle is reporting that the caretaker Polish prime minister Marek Belka may not be able to agree a deal, owing to his weak position. As leader of a government that has no parliamentary mandate, his hands could be tied.

That there are serious reservations to a deal being made on the current terms comes from the prestigious Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE), a Warsaw "think-tank" set up with American money. Writing in the Financial Times, one of its trustees, Jacek Rostowski, argues that Poland should hold out, alongside Spain, for the higher threshold on the double majority voting system.

"Poland's main reason for opposing the 50/60 double majority", he writes, "is the fear that it will significantly strengthen France and Germany within the EU. With 30 per cent of the EU's population, they will need only to co-opt one large country, or Spain or Poland plus a small country or two, to block any measure".

Interestingly, Rostowski states that Poland views the US as the only serious guarantor of its independence in the face of a resurgent and increasingly autocratic Russia. It fears that Paris and Berlin "may try to use the additional power the new system would give them to squeeze the US out of Europe".

"Schröder's readiness to put electoral considerations before his country's strategic interest in having the US committed to Europe", he adds, "came as a shock to Warsaw. These worries have been increased by recent Franco-German attempts to put pressure on new member states not to compete with western Europe on corporate tax, and their apparent commitment to build up selected companies as Franco-German 'European champions'".

"Another reason for Polish ministers' resistance to Franco-German pressure is their acute sensitivity to political manipulation and bullying. The convention that drafted the proposed constitution and the inter-governmental conference supposed to approve it were clearly timed so that accession countries would feel too insecure - out of fear that their accession treaties might not be ratified - to oppose the will of incumbent members".

"Then came the redrafting of the European Central Bank's voting system. Here weighting by population - which would have favoured the new members - was excluded in favour of weighting by gross domestic product. The final straw was the ostentatious refusal by France and Germany to abide by the rules of the stability and growth pact".

Rostowski asserts that "far from not understanding how Europe works, Poland's post-communist politicians feel they are in a strikingly familiar environment, where the big decide and the small are supposed to shut up". He feels that a change in political culture is needed before introducing a voting system that would give even more power to the two "core" states – "especially as France and Germany seem bent on doing all they can to protect themselves from change".

If this is a sentiment that is widely shared by politicians in Poland, then the summit is indeed in for a rocky ride.

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