Germany wins Poland backing for EU birthday text

Following a visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Warsaw on 16-17 March, Poland agreed to back the Berlin Declaration despite the absence of a mention of Christianity in the text, clearing the way for the Treaty of Rome’s 50th anniversay celebrations to take place later this week.

President Lech Kaczynski told a national TV station that Poland would sign the Berlin Declaration, which will mark the EU’s 50th anniversary on 25 March 2007.

“We have reservations concerning some parts of the declaration, but if Poland does not sign it, we would be the only country in the EU not to do so,” Kaczynski said.

Poland had voiced its discontent over the fact that there will be no direct reference made to god or Christianity in the anniversary declaration, but the German Presidency wants to keep the text vague and short to avoid dissension.

The declaration is set to underline the EU’s historic achievements, its common values, as well as future challenges, but also set the direction for a new treaty to settle the institutional impasse. However, the declaration will not directly mention the EU Constitution, according to German officials.

Meanwhile, citizens seem to have mixed feelings towards the EU itself. According to a recent FT/Harris poll undertaken in the five largest member states, 25% of those questioned thought their country had benefited from joining the EU, whereas 44% thought their country was worse off since joining the Union. The poll also found that people associated the EU with the common market (20%) and bureaucracy (20%) rather than democracy (9%).

However, another French poll on cultural heritage seems to be more optimistic. The poll conducted by the Ipsos institute in five European countries shows that more than half (58%) of the respondents thought that Europe helped to protect their national heritage.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed its neighbouring country for a compromise on the constitutional issue by saying: "The period of reflection is over. Now is the time for decisions."

However, Polish President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski oppose the current text of the constitutional treaty. The twins think the text aims too much at further European integration.

The Czech Republic has joined Poland in its criticism of the EU Constitution. The Eurosceptic government criticises that there will be increased transfer of competences from the national to the European level.

The Czech Republic is also against mentioning 2009 as a deadline for ratification of the new treaty in the Berlin Declaration, according to the Prague Daily Monitor.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged European leaders to give their support to the Berlin Declaration and clear the way for the EU Constitution, the Berliner Zeitung writes. Barroso called for a swift agreement on the new treaty and urged especially the Czech and Polish governments, who had not been in office when the constitutional treaty was signed in 2004, to not to block an agreement. He said: "We can not re-negotiate the treaties each time there is a new government elected." He added that a second failure of the EU Constitution would damage the EU.

Commission spokesperson Mikolay Dowgielewicz said: "As everyone knows there is no Commission position, no college position of the College for the new treaty because there are no negotiations at the moment."

The European Movement International (EMI) called for a renewed consensus on the institutional future. EMI President Pat Cox said: "The European leaders should ensure that the contemporary European project is an authentic political vision fit for a modern society and not only a platform for markets, economism and technocracy.”

Referring to the EU’s 50th anniversary President of the European retail association EuroCommerceXavier Durieu said: "What we need is political courage, vision and ambition to create an environment in which future generations can prosper."

The German Presidency wants to present a “roadmap” on how to proceed with the EU Constitution at the European Summit in June 2007.

However, the German ambitions met with objections from Poland, which rejects the double majority voting system in the Council under the constitutional treaty provisions that would give the country less weight than the current system under the Nice Treaty arrangements.

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