19th Feb 2019

Polish president softens tone on EU treaty

Polish President Lech Kaczynski on Tuesday (1 July) toned down his rhetoric against the Lisbon treaty, with the French EU presidency also downplaying the mini-crisis and analysts saying Mr Kaczynski's stance is a bargaining tool for foreign policy concessions.

"If the Irish change their mind, not under pressure, but of their own free will, there will not be the slightest obstacle to ratification from the Polish side...I will also sign the treaty," he said on a visit to Georgia, PAP reports. "I had a big role in negotiating this treaty, and I support it."

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The comments come after Mr Kaczynski in a newspaper interview earlier the same day said signing the treaty would be "pointless" after the Irish voted No in June. The Polish parliament approved Lisbon in April but the president must now ink a so-called Ratification Act.

"The Polish president is an honest, politically-engaged man and I don't doubt for a moment he will keep his word," French leader Nicolas Sarkozy said at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday. "I can't imagine that someone who negotiated the treaty and signed it would question their own signature."

"It's not a Polish refusal to sign," French foreign ministry spokesman, Eric Chevallier, added, Le Monde reports. "The president said that, for the moment, he has chosen to postpone his ratification signature. He didn't say 'I will never sign' he said 'for the moment'."

France plans to hold high-level talks with Poland to resolve the situation, using Mr Kaczynski's desire to give Ukraine an EU membership perspective as leverage, French diplomats explained. "We have to try and keep everyone together, keep the European family together," one diplomat said.

The Lisbon gambit

Polish neighbours and analysts speculate the president's stance is not really designed to protect Irish voters or the EU principle of unanimity, with Czech Europe minister Alexandr Vondra and Swedish Europe minister Cecilia Malmstrom both saying it is a "tactical" move in internal Polish games.

Mr Kaczynski is fighting to win oversight powers on Polish government behaviour in EU negotiations and to get government approval for Poland to host a US missile shield. The Lisbon row also generates momentum for his flagging conservative opposition party, as campaigning slowly begins for the 2009 European Parliament elections.

"If Lech Kaczynski signs the treaty it will be a victory for [Polish liberal Prime Minister Donald] Tusk. So the president wants his own victory by winning concessions from the liberals," Polish Institute of Political Sciences analyst Kazimierz Kik told AFP.

"Support for the treaty could also be traded [with France and Germany] for support for a Polish candidate for one of the most important EU positions [such as European Parliament president]," Polish daily Rzeczpospolita wrote in an editorial comment.

Heating things up

Mr Kaczynski's remarks on the "pointlessness" of Lisbon caused outrage inside Poland, with socialist and liberal MPs tabling a parliamentary resolution urging him to sign and Prime Minister Tusk saying it is "needless" for Poland to find itself "attached to Ireland as a country...in a difficult situation."

A European Commission statement on Tuesday reminding Mr Kaczynski that he is "obliged" to ratify the treaty after his part in the signing ceremony in Lisbon last year also generated heat.

"With all due respect, the European Commission is a European Union organ without the authority to evaluate the decisions of the leaders of individual member states," the Polish president said.

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