Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU summit floats solutions to Polish voting problem

EU leaders broke off formal negotiations on a new EU treaty after a first round of talks on Thursday (21 June) evening as issues tabled by Poland and the UK dominated the contentious discussions.

Declaring that there were several "open questions" still to be resolved, German chancellor and chair of the talks Angela Merkel called a halt to the 27-member states' gathering shortly before midnight.

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Two issues emerged as the most problematic in the discussions: the Charter of Fundamental Rights and proposed changes to the voting system – but only the voting issue saw potential solutions proposed.

Poland, whose hardline stance on the voting question has been the talk of Brussels in the run-up to the summit, indicated that it is reconsidering compromise proposals.

"None of the proposals we heard were new...But there are solutions [on the table] that could constitute a package equally beneficial to the square root," said Polish foreign minister Anna Fotyga, referring to Warsaw's preferred voting system based on the square root of populations.

There were two proposals circulating at the summit – one by the Czechs (lowering the population percentage to reach a decision and raising the number of member states needed to block a decision) and one by the French which would make Warsaw a bigger player in both majority decision and in blocking decisions by making it count as a large member state.

The current proposal in the rejected EU constitution gives strong weighting to population, meaning Germany benefits the most from the revised system – Poland says the system is undemocratic.

By the end of Thursday's meeting, the French proposal seemed to have the edge with Poland having held discussions on it with president Nicolas Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus.

The Lithuanian leader, Poland's ally on energy issues, appeared to be part of the voting discussion group because Polish president Lech Kaczynski did not want to be outfoxed by France and Germany and because he represents a small member state, with smaller countries likely to object to anything resembling a directoire of large member states.

The discussions were set to continue on into the night, Ms Fotyga indicated.

Charter

Meanwhile, the Charter of Fundamental Rights – setting out the economic, social and civil rights of citizens - saw member states divided into two camps.

Some said it should not be included at all in a future treaty and others said it must be included and be fully binding – but there were no solutions offered to move the discussion forward, said one official.

The UK is the main opponent to the Charter with a spokesperson saying it will be a "difficult" issue and that London will not accept any deal that affects its common law system.

London, with its four red lines on foreign policy, judicial and police affairs, the rights charter and social security and tax – also insisted it was not isolated on Thursday night and that other countries had problems in some of the same areas.

France is meanwhile lobbying to scrap free market language from the German negotiating mandate - a move reflecting analyses saying the 2005 French "no" was caused to a large extent by popular hostility to the alleged neo-liberal economics of the draft constitution.

Referring to how the summit is going to continue, Ms Merkel said that on Friday morning "there will be a lot of bilaterals" before all EU leaders come together once again at around midday.

Success?

Although several leaders mentioned that there was strong political will to find a solution at this summit, they downplayed the likelihood of success.

"We can't say whether we will succeed or not," said Mrs Merkel, while Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek said "If you asked me at this very moment what will be the outcome of this summit, I couldn't possibly tell you."

Meanwhile, some diplomats were taking bets on when the summit would end with the takes clustering around 2am or 3pm on Saturday.

"I have one flight booked for Friday evening and one for Saturday morning," remarked one summit attendee. "It had better not run until Saturday evening."

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