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Poland - Deciding how to Decide

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After being dressed down by Chirac for their stance on the Irak war and acting as tough negotiators over the European Constitution, Poland is having a rocky ride into the EU.

One of the most frequently repeated clichés about the European Union is that it is 'an economic giant and a political dwarf'. Since no reasonable politician would opt for economic disintegration and only very few find such a dissonance harmless, deepening political integration is inevitable. The Constitution prepared by the European Convention moves us a few steps closer to political union than the proposals elaborated during the Nice summit, but the dissent of Spain and Poland to accept the change of voting schemes means that some compromise will be needed. That will not appear during the summit in Naples next weekend – both Polish and Spanish governments treat the forthcoming Italian proposals as nothing other than a base for future discussion. Last Tuesday after consultations in Madrid, Polish foreign minister Wodzimierz Cimoszewicz said that the final deal will be struck in Brussels not earlier than in December – and possibly even later.

Why we need federalism

The difficulties with 'making decisions on how to make decisions' show why a better political integration is needed. Although this time we are dealing with an internal rather than an external issue, the situation is similar to that at the beginning of the year. Europe did not manage to elaborate a common stance on Iraq, which empowered the United States to act unilaterally and, as it turned out, unwisely. The lack of any common European position harmed not only Germany and France, which did not manage to block American invasion, but also those countries that joined the US. The United Kingdom, Poland, Spain and Italy have today lesser influence in Iraq than they would have had if they acted with the same power but on behalf of the European Union.

The vision of a federal Europe both strong internally and strong externally does not ignore the reality of conflicts of interest. Those are natural. In the US, orange-growing Florida has different interests than steel-manufacturing Illinois. Depending on Bush’s decision whether to maintain steel tariffs and launch commercial war with Europe, only one of those states will gain, at the expense of the other. The same applies to smaller countries. Interests of agriculturalists are different than those of food consumers, coal miners press for different policies than those pushed by small businesses. In no case those conflicts can be avoided, and it is not true – as the Polish government claims – that the Nice system is better in eliminating them than the proposals offered by the Convention.

“Nice or death?”

Yet, the slogan “Nice or death” has become very popular among Polish politicians, whether they are the ruling Social Democrats or the conservative and liberal opposition. According to the Polish government the voting system designed in Nice should be kept untouched, which would give Poland more possibilities to form blocking coalitions. The question what in particular should be blocked remains unanswered.

So does the letter signed in mid-October by over 300 academics, students and entrepreneurs, who expressed their support for federal Europe and discontent with the stubborn position of our government. All the feedback that we got was another open letter saying that the Convention worked in an undemocratic way, along with the oft-repeated argument that Poland joined the 'Nice Europe' and that is what we should stick to.