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18th Jun 2018

Poland to join UK in EU rights charter opt-out

  • EU foreign ministers - contemplating difficult treaty talks? (Photo: Portuguese EU presidency)

Poland will join Britain in opting out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, Polish foreign minister Ana Fotyga announced after arriving for talks in Portugal on the EU's new Reform Treaty.

"We want to join the British protocol, protocol 7," Ms Fotyga told reporters on Friday (7 September), referring to a protocol in the proposed EU treaty which secures an exemption for the UK from the citizens rights charter.

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Ms Fotyga made the announcement while strolling through the picturesque Portuguese town of Viana do Castelo where EU foreign ministers are holding a first political discussion on the detailed draft version of the new treaty prepared by the Portuguese EU presidency.

Warsaw has so far been ambiguous on whether it would like to be exempted from the EU rights charter, which is referred to in the reform treaty blueprint as legally binding.

Poland's embattled conservative government dislikes the charter for its supposed liberalism on moral issues, but at the same time it has been under pressure from trade unions - who support the charter's social rights catalogue - to sign up to the charter.

Now that the Poles have decided to go for the opt-out, they are set to confirm in the eyes of other delegations their reputation as prime member of the awkward squad.

A bitter European leaders summit on the treaty in June saw a head-to-head clash between Warsaw and Berlin centred around Poland's voting weight in the EU - an issue which still has not been resolved, it emerged ahead of the Portugal meeting.

Fresh differences

Fresh differences of interpretation have surfaced over the so-called Ioannina mechanism, whereby Warsaw or any member state can delay an EU decision on new legislation if its vital interests are at stake.

Poland appears to believe that it can invoke the mechanism "repeatedly", until EU consensus on the new legislation is reached, whereas other member states see it as a one-off instrument, Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn told reporters.

Ms Fotyga indicated "our expertise says that [the mechanism] may be used in current form until we reach consensus," adding "the main purpose [of the mechanism] is the consensual way of taking decisions."

Poland also wants to see the Ioannina mechanism explicitly mentioned in the Reform Treaty text - whereas the majority of EU countries only want to have the blocking clause mentioned in a separate declaration which has a lesser legal status.

Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen rejected the Polish demand, telling EUobserver that "with regard to Ioaninna we have made very clear that there will be no reference to this in the treaty. We agreed this in Brussels [at the June summit] so this remains our line."

Arguing along the same lines, France's foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said "I hope that these problems will be solved. I hope there will not be a reopening of important questions - that would not be useful. Things were already said and done in Brussels."

Polish elections?

Meanwhile, the domestic political situation in Poland has raised speculation that there will be further treaty complications. Poland's parliament was expected on Friday to vote on its dissolution, which would trigger early elections.

An election date mentioned by current prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is October 21 - just days after an EU leaders meeting on 18-19 October where the Portuguese presidency wants to have the treaty wrapped up.

Asked whether the possible elections in her country would lead to a delay of the EU treaty summit, Ms Fotyga said "there is no reason to think that."

She indicated that government and opposition parties are "pretty united about the mandate" for the treaty talks.

Some member states remain confident about the state of the treaty talks, however.

"In a union of 27 members elections belong to everyday life. I am not counting with problems. The [treaty] mandate that we agreed [in June] is - thank God - too precise for that," Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik remarked.

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