‘Patience with Poland has come to an end’

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Despite some criticism, Socialist MEP Jo Leinen thinks the EU’s draft ‘Reform Treaty’ represents a ‘huge improvement’ compared to the Nice Treaty currently in force. But he warns that if Poland tries to drive the rest of the EU crazy once more, it may receive a ‘red card’ from the Portuguese Presidency.

Jo Leinen is a member of the Socialist Group and President of Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee. The MEP is also the author of Parliament’s opinion on the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

 

You have prepared the European Parliament’s opinion on the IGC, which was adopted on 11 July 2007. What is your assessment of the IGC mandate agreed at the European Council in June? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

The Reform Treaty is less than what is needed but a huge improvement compared to the status quo. The new EU Treaty will introduce more majority-voting in the Council and a Council President. 

This will make the EU much more efficient than is possible with today’s Nice Treaty. By strengthening Parliament and introducing participatory democracy, the gap between the Union’s citizens and EU institutions will also be reduced. 

Nevertheless, the EU Summit in June has buried the Constitutional Treaty. Symbols which would help citizens to identify with the EU have been deleted and a member state has succeeded in being exempted from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Do you think the ”Ioaninna compromise” clause inserted at Poland’s request, allowing for EU decisions to be delayed even without a blocking minority, was a good deal?

One of the main reasons for launching the constitutional process was to reduce the possibility of blocking decisions and make the EU more effective. 

Poland did everything it could to achieve exactly the opposite: secure as many blocking and veto possibilities as possible. They succeeded in postponing the introduction of the double majority and in reintroducing the “Ioaninna compromise”, which will give them the chance to block Council decisions for a limited time, if there is a close voting result. 

This will not only weaken the Council, but will also make it more difficult for the EU to respond to its challenges. Unfortunately, no better deal was possible. 

The Reform Treaty with the “Ioaninna compromise” is still a better solution than continuing on the basis of the Nice Treaty.

The Parliament had earlier threatened to reject an IGC mandate that would not go far enough in preserving the draft EU Constitution’s substance. Is Parliament satisfied with the outcome in this respect?

Despite all the difficulties in the negotiations, the German Presidency succeeded in saving the main substance of the Treaty. Most reforms of the institutions and improvement for EU policies – especially in the field of foreign policy – have been maintained. 

The Parliament has fought hard for the insertion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the ‘Reform Treaty’. How do you feel about ending up with merely a cross-reference in the text with exemptions for the UK and Poland on its application?

The important news is that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding. Union citizens will have their fundamental rights guaranteed. This is a huge breakthrough, especially since many of the ‘modern’ rights in the Charter are not yet guaranteed in all the member states, such as the rights to good administration, consumer protection and a clean environment. 

But there are two setbacks: Firstly, the Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be reproduced as part of the new Treaty, so citizens can only look for their rights in an annex. 

And secondly, some member states seek exemptions from the Charter. This could lead to the discrimination of Union citizens. But until today it is unclear what legal value the opt-out for Britain and possibly other member states will have, since they are committed to respecting the values of the European Union.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski has announced that he wants to reopen the issue of the Council voting system. Do you think his position could put an agreement on a new EU Treaty at the IGC at risk?

Nothing is achieved before the new Treaty is written, signed and ratified. After Kaczynski’s behaviour in the last few months, nothing can shock me anymore. I would not be surprised if Lech Kaczynski will tried to drive the rest of the EU crazy once more, by forgetting that he has already agreed to the mandate for the Reform Treaty. 

But I believe that the patience for accepting the Polish parochialism has come to an end. If the Polish government tries to reopen a compromise that they have already agreed to, they will see the red card from the Portuguese Presidency. If they block the new Treaty, a Europe of two speeds will have to emerge.

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