Interview: Poland seeking EU Treaty changes

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The double majority voting system in the Council of Ministers and the division of competences between the EU and its member states are two major issues of concern for Poland ahead of a June summit on institutional reform, EU Ambassador Jan Tombi?ski has told EURACTIV in an interview.

  • Institutional reforms

With the next European summit on 21-22 June set to focus on institutional reforms, Poland is trying to assert itself as a major EU powerhouse. Chief among its concerns is to reopen negotiations on the double majority voting system laid down in draft EU Constitution.

“Poland was granted a strong position by the Treaty of Nice, which is not reflected by the new voting system,” said Jan Tombi?ski, Poland’s newly appointed Permanent Representative to the EU in an interview with EURACTIV.

Germany, the current holder of the EU Presidency, wants to use the June summit to present a ‘road map’ on how to proceed with institutional reforms. And the voting system, agreed after extensive negotiations, is a ‘Pandora’s Box’ that most EU leaders do not wish to reopen.

However, Tombi?ski says his country will only seek limited changes. “It doesn’t mean that Poland will propose a totally new draft for a Constitution,” he said. Rather, he points out, Poland “seeks to introduce some changes in the already existing text”. “The current text may serve as a basis, a platform for further work on institutional changes.”
The second big issue for Poland is the question of exclusive and shared competences between the EU and its member states. “We do not support the section which lays out the EU’s shared competences, as we think the EU should not dominate on questions concerning the social system and education, as this touches on our traditions of the functioning of society.”

“Poland is not quite friendly towards the idea of a European ‘super-state’.”

Tombi?ski insists that Poland is not the Europhobic country some choose to portray. “We agree to share competences on judicial matters, because harmonisation of judicial systems among member states is necessary for the functioning of the internal market and of other European policies.”

And he accepts that some countries may have to break away from the pack and forge closer cooperation on certain issues, citing the euro and the Schengen agreement that lifted border controls between countries as existing examples of such possibilities.

“As a group of 27 countries we should not be too idealistic; we won’t go in all directions at the same pace. We have to be prepared to accept a differentiated speed. However, we should reserve one condition: openness for others to join all forms of cooperation, in order not to create some exclusive clubs within the Union.”

“We should not end up with a ‘directorate’ within the Union,” he warns, however.

He also says that Poland supports a strengthening of the EU’s external role and military capacities, saying citizens wanted the EU to be a “more coherent actor on the international scene” and wishing for “a Europe which is more effective in defending our positioning in the world”.

  • Energy policy

On energy issues, Tombi?ski says Poland is committed to the ambitious goals agreed at the EU Summit in March 2007 to boost renewable energies and drastically cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

But he fears this might clash with Poland’s economic catch-up which is expected to increase energy use. “We will have some problems in reducing the energy consumption, and expect a growth in energy use.”

The diplomat points out that coal will remain a major source of energy for Poland, and while the country will actively be seeking to develop other sources, such as renewables and biofuels, Tombi?ski says that other solutions may have to be called in. “Perhaps the next step will be to create a nuclear power plant in Poland,” he says.

  • Co-operation with Russia

Turning to a future Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Russia, Tombi?ski says Poland will continue to oppose its veto on opening negotiations as long as Russia maintains its ban on Polish meat imports.

“Russia is putting forward measures on a bilateral basis, thus we decided to make this issue a common EU issue,” says Tombi?ski, who stresses that recent inspections showed Poland is “in full conformity with EU rules” and that the ban is “unfounded”.

“As regards Poland… the only prerequisite to start the PCA negotiations should be to stick to our ‘acquis communautaire’. It is not for other countries to put preconditions on the EU to start negotiations.”

In his view, the EU has provided the evidence that Polish meat is safe and the responsibility now lies firmly with Russia to solve the crisis. “The European Commission…has difficulties to get a clear opinion from the Russian side. You may answer to their questions, but you don’t get results from the other side.”

  • Baltic pipeline

On the issue of the Baltic sub sea pipeline from Russia to Germany, which was heavily criticised by Poland, Tombi?ski argues that the decision was political, not economic. 

He points to the project’s surging costs as an illustration of this. “Three years ago, when the project was conceived, the cost was estimated at €6-7 billion. Nowadays, the former chancellor Schroeder, appointed chief of the project, mentioned a doubling of the figure. This shows to everybody that this project has not been founded on real estimation of needs, costs and possibilities.”

Second, Tombi?ski argues that the project does not make sense either from an energy security and diversification viewpoint. “Central Europe is still an heir of the Warsaw-Pact energy infrastructure – we don’t have an access to Western infrastructure. This project of the Baltic pipeline does not help us to develop and to improve our position.”

“The Baltic pipeline will put us in a situation of more, not less, dependency on Russia.”

Finally, he raises serious concerns over the environmental impact of the project, saying that “up until now, there have not been any studies on the environmental impact of the project on the Baltic Sea”. He says this runs contrary to EU reasoning which obliges environmental impact studies to be conducted on important infrastructure projects.

“We have seen concerns raised by the EU on even the tiniest of constructions on Polish territory and such a gigantic project can be launched without a single environmental impact study?”

  • Turkey and further EU enlargement

On future EU enlargement, Tombi?ski says “the capacity to enlarge depends on both sides” and speaks out against setting accession target dates too early.

Admitting Turkey into the EU “would show the world that Europe is a community of countries not solely based on Christianity, but on the values of peace, solidarity and common responsibility for the world”.

“The clash of civilisations and of religions is not a certainty.”

To read the full interview, please click here.

Celebrating 50 years of European integration in Berlin on 25 March, EU leaders agreed to adopt new institutional reforms in time for the next European elections in 2009 (EURACTIV 26/03/07).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) can be convened in the second half of the year under the Portuguese Presidency to agree on the reforms.

Consensus is emerging around a core set of elements already agreed in the draft EU Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. These include a new voting system in the Council and the creation of an EU foreign affairs minister.

But the tight timetable agreed in Berlin was criticised as “unrealistic” by Polish President Lech Kaczynski. 

"Realistically, we see 2009 as the year in which the text of the treaty is agreed on. For it to come into effect I’d say 2011 is realistic," Kaczynski said. Earlier this year, the Polish President said he would present his own proposals, but they have yet to be unveiled.

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