28th Mar 2023

Poland to fight for 'square root' law in EU treaty

Poland plans to propose a new voting system in the upcoming EU treaty talks that will be based on square roots of populations instead of simple populations. The so-called "Penrose square root law" would give Warsaw more say against Berlin, with one Polish official already talking about potential Polish vetoes.

The plan was confirmed by Poland's lead negotiators on the new treaty, Marek Cichocki (a historian) and Ewa Osniecka-Tamecka (a senior Polish official), to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Wednesday (28 March) - three months before the June EU summit hopes to clinch agreement on a "roadmap" for a new text.

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"If other countries do not want to discuss our proposal, we will take the last resort," Ms Osniecka-Tamecka said, on the possibility of a Polish veto on constitution talks. The new voting plan would be a "Polish historical rebate" for the fact that "for 50 years Poland for no fault of its own was outside EU integration," Mr Cichocki added.

The current draft constitution has a so-called double majority system, which requires at least 15 out of 27 EU states which represent at least 65 percent of the total EU population to get a decision through. Similar rules exist for establishing "blocking minorities" to stop reforms from going ahead.

Poland's Penrose system requires at least 14 out of 27 EU states which represent at least 62 percent of national votes, which are awarded on the basis of square roots of population. In the draft constitution Germany has 82 population "points" while Poland has 38. In the Penrose scheme, Germany has nine votes and Poland has six.

Lionel Penrose was a British mathematician of the 1940s, whose ideas on game theory keep on bobbing up in EU debate. Ms Osniecka-Tamecka - who runs Poland's EU integration office, UKIE - told Polish press she hopes for French, British, Dutch, Romanian and Czech support. The Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, already backs the idea.

The issue of voting rights is at the heart of the EU's intricate power balance. If draft constitution ideas on extending the range of issues subject to qualified majority voting instead of consensus go forward, voting rights will carry even more importance. Issues such as immigration and budget deficit procedures are set to undergo the shift to qualified majority.

Voting rights are also a hot topic in future enlargement. The existing double majority would have no problem coping with Croatia or Macedonia. But if Turkey - which reopened EU accession talks this week - joins in, say, 2020, when it is forecast to have a population of almost 90 million, it would immediately become the most powerful EU state.

But with Germany last weekend setting a daring timetable of ratifying a new EU treaty by 2009, Poland's suggestion to open the Pandora's Box of voting is unlikely to go down well. German chancellor Angela Merkel's man in the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, has already pleaded with Warsaw to leave voting alone.

Speaking to EUobserver in Warsaw in February, when the Penrose idea was already doing the rounds, the head of Polish think-thank demosEUROPA Pawel Swieboda speculated that Penrose could be a Polish bluff, with the real government position being to keep the existing double majority system but to cap the maximum population weight at, say, 70, so that no country, no matter how populous, could dominate the club.

The latter idea would also address the Turkey challenge.

The Polish expert's advice to Warsaw is that the best way to secure lasting influence in the EU would be to "ratify the constitution as it stands, ratify it now." But his advice clashes with the Kaczynski twins' view of Brussels, who see it as an arena of competing national interests where solidarity is a fable.

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