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10th Aug 2022

Poland rejects Italy's invitation to join EU 'vanguard' group

  • Sikorski: Poland seems happier in the company of France and Germany than in any new club involving Italy (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Italy and Poland have conducted a piquant conversation in the pages of the Financial Times about the merits of creating an EU steering group made up of the Union's biggest countries.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told the international daily on Thursday (4 November) that France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK should set up a "vanguard" or "consultative" group which could also involve smaller countries on a case-by-case basis.

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He noted that interior ministers from the group of six already meet regularly.

He presented the idea as an antidote to bilateral deal-making, such as last week's Franco-German pact to push through an amendment to the EU Treaty on the subject of financial discipline: "Pre-cooked decisions put on the table to be taken or left by others is not acceptable for other countries like Italy and other big players ... We can have consultations but not pre-cooked decisions taken by Paris or Berlin."

The idea was rejected by Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski in an interview with the same paper on Sunday.

"I would be wary of any formal division of countries into categories. We have enough such distinctions already and they make life difficult. Those members that would not participate would feel excluded and resentful," Mr Sikorski said.

The Frattini gambit comes in the context of Italy's weakening position in the EU.

The verbal gaffes and alleged sexual antics of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi have made Rome into a bit of a laughing stock in EU capitals. The Italian leader is also facing sovereign debt problems and has attracted European Commission criticism over his handling of a rubbish-collection crisis. In a sign of Rome's ineffective diplomacy, the recent intake of top personnel for the European External Action Service did not include any Italians.

Mr Berlusconi suffered another blow over the weekend when one of his oldest allies, the ex-neo-fascist politician Gianfranco Fini, called on him to step down.

For its part, Poland is keen to look like a team player ahead of its EU presidency in late 2011. But Warsaw is cultivating its own alliances despite Mr Sikorski's words on Sunday.

The new Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski, in September met separately with French and German leaders and called for a summit in Warsaw of the three "Weimar Triangle" countries. "It is basically the entrance of the Polish president into the decision-making circles of Europe," Mr Sikorski said at the time.

Warsaw's support for the Franco-German treaty-change pact may be a quid-pro-quo for its bid to change EU accounting rules so that post-Communist countries can offset the cost of pension reforms against budget deficits.

Poland is also increasingly conducting EU policy in concert with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The "Visegrad Group" meets at ambassador level each month in Brussels and at leader level ahead of EU summits. Its combined voting power in the EU Council is until 2014 the same as that of France and Germany put together.

The presidents of the four countries meeting in the Czech town of Karlovy Vary on Saturday urged the EU to develop a joint policy on the wandering Roma minority.

Further north, Swedish historian Gunnar Wetterberg at a Nordic Council summit in Reykjavik last week proposed setting up a new Nordic Federation involving Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden under the symbolic rule of the Danish royal family.

It is unclear how such a federation would cohabit with the EU. But a poll by the Nordic Council, an inter-governmental club launched in 1953, said that 42 percent of Nordic people like the idea.

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