Debate on Voting Rights dominate EU summit

12-12-2003

In the end the biggest disagreement among the 25 nations gathered in Brussels to decide the constitution was voting power. Germany and France, which together account for one-third of the bloc's population want the voting system to reflect their size. That is decision a majority of states representing a majority of population would be enough to take decisions. But Spain and Poland fought a fierce battle to hold on to a voting system agreed three years ago at the Nice summit. This guaranteed both countries 27 votes each in the future enlarged European Council of Ministers - only two less than the most populous states, including Germany which has a population double their size. Why did Warsaw fight so hard?

Leszek Miller, photo: CTKLeszek Miller, photo: CTK Some European Union members, such as France and Germany, claim that EU states with the largest populations, especially if they contribute greater net amounts to the common budget, should have greater say in decision making. However, the Polish says countries of the enlarged European Union should be as equal, as possible - to quote European Integration minister Danuta Huebner. Marcin Sobczyk is from the Poland monthly magazine:

"Poland is a fresh member country and one that still needs, without call, affirmative action on its part. So, we are joining the union as a nation, which not only started to build its wealth and needs, a competitive advantage, but Poland doesn't want decisions to be made by a majority vote on issues that can reduce its competitiveness. This would be against the Polish interests on the European market, and it would be in the interests of Europe that Poland should grow fast, because this will create jobs in other countries too."

Janusz Onyszkiewicz from the Warsaw based Institute of International Affairs - and Poland's former defence minister - sees no point in returning to matters which have already been ironed out and settled in a wide debate.

"We consider frankly, that the Nice treaty was already a compromise. It was worked out, you know, after long and very painful negotiations. So, why should we just scrap this compromise and replace this compromise with a new one, especially if we take into consideration that this compromise was a basis of our referendum to join the European Union. That's what we kept telling people and now suddenly the rules of the games are going to be changed."

Marcin Sobczyk points out there is still another way of viewing the argument that, for instance, Poland is a nation of 40 million, while Germany has double the population size.

"If we're talking about what is fundamental for the EU, there is solidarity between the nations and supporting those who are perhaps disadvantaged for this or that reason, then I think that there is every reason that Poland should have the weight in the Union as negotiated in the Nice treaty."

The Polish government has spent time explaining the rules of the EU game to its citizens. Now, some are holding it responsible for backtracking on earlier pronouncements and displaying little firmness in setting final, but crucial terms of Poland's EU membership. Such destructive criticism could eventually lead to internal political destabilization of the Union's largest newcomer. And this would definitely not be to anyone's advantage.

12-12-2003