The Political Page
Europe – smarter or smarting?
On Saturday, the 13th December 2003, around 4 p.m., Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s President and President of the European Summit Meeting in Brussels, announces the end of the government conference. With that, the negotiations of state and government leaders from 25 Europeans nations has failed after almost 2 years’ effort to present Europe with a constitution. As great as the expectations were for this summit, so great is the disappointment of all participants. Commission President Romano Prodi: “Europe now finds itself in a dead-end.” Bye-bye Europe?
On the surface, it is the fault of Spain and Poland, because to implement this constitution, a
consensus is required. The objection, the veto of just one country, can block a constitution that has been accepted by all the other states.
Poland and Spain were finally not willing to rescind their veto.
This form of voting, which was normal in the beginning when there were only 6 members (Germany, France, Italy and the 3 Benelux states), has become increasingly problematic as more and more member-states have been added. When considering that in 2004 ten new states would be added, it was clear that a new regulation for voting was needed, if Europe was to come to an agreement. But how?
Since in addition to the issue of majority vote, there is the problem of the size of the countries. It has been realised that the majority of 13 out of 25 states, if by chance they were the smallest, altogether would amount to about only half as many citizens being represented (10.6%) as from the largest state-Germany- with 18.1% of all EU citizens (480 million).
The first attempt to solve this problem was made in Nice in 1990. The so-called “double majority” was invented, in which each country was given a number of votes according to its size, in addition to the representatives’ vote. Then, so the smaller countries could not be oppressed by the big ones with higher points – their constant worry - , it was decided that next to a majority vote, there must also be points of 72.5%. This is certainly a very high hurdle. The agreement from Nice which should take effect in 2004 with the entrance of 10 new states, provided for points as follows: Germany 29, Great Britain 29, France 29, Italy 29;
then Spain 27, Poland 27;
after that the small states from Holland with 13 to Malta and Luxembourg with 4 points.
However, the longer the matter was considered, the clearer it became that Spain and Poland, based on the population, had been greatly over-valued.
Stated in percentages based on the total number of EU citizens, these six countries have the following weighting:
Germany (18.1%), Great Britain (13.2%), France (13.1%), Italy 12.8%), Spain (8.9%), Poland (8.5%).
These numbers were then used by the convention as the basis for the new constitution.
The second attempt which was used for the new EU constitution, decided the weight by percentage instead of points. This means that the voting power of Poland and Spain is only half compared to Germany’s. Besides that, it was also decided that the 72.5% hurdle be reduced to 60%. It was clear that this would lead to certain protest from these two states. It was not clear, however, with what tenacity the two countries would protest to the end, thus blocking the whole work of unification by their right to veto.
In doing this, they referred to the agreement of Nice which had been signed by all and was thus valid. Legally, they are right since the new constitution has not been ratified. However, they did something that should never happen in a community that wants to grow – they rigorously put their own interests before those of the community. Someone said: “Poland has not yet arrived in Brussels.”
So much for the factual side.
What seemed to be more difficult for all participants and even left experienced diplomats helpless, though, was the emotional side.
The Polish side turned the question of “double voting” into a matter of national honour.
Minister President Miller: “Poland is a great, proud country.”
Furthermore, what was felt by the Germans to be a blow beneath the belt, was the argument that, based on their suffering especially at the hands of the Germans, Poland can expect retribution in the form of higher weighting.
It was said that the otherwise cultivated friendly tone in Brussels by even hardest negotiations was “poisoned” by such argumentation.
Germany and France are also partly responsible for the failed conference.
After Spain and Poland refused to give up their 27 points, President Berlusconi tried to offer the Germans 32 points – which Schröder and Fischer adamantly refused. They emphasised that this issue was not about greater German influence but rather the whole package of a new constitution against the Nice-agreement; in other words, the ability of Europe to work together in the future. “No result is better than a bad one” according to Foreign Minister Fischer. So, they preferred to risk a failed conference than accept a watered-down compromise with which all would have to live for a long time. The Poles were consciously allowed to hit the wall to show them that whoever wants to go forward with Europe must be flexible and willing to compromise and above all, able to subordinate national interests to the good of the community.
President Berlusconi had to listen to hard words in the European Parliament. “You have poorly prepared yourself for the negotiations on the constitution in Brussels ” railed Graham Watson, the Liberals’ party leader. He had also waited too long with compromise suggestions. Further: “The suggestions you had in your pocket proved to be a joke. Thus ended Berlusconi’s term as President of the Council, which had begun in July with a huge confrontation in the European Parliament.
How to continue?
1. On 1st January 2004, Ireland’s President Bertie Ahern will take his turn as Head of the European Council, the meeting of heads of state. The next Council meeting is on 25th/26th March. President Ahern has been asked to review the state of things at that time. After that, further decisions have to be made. By the way: Ireland is perhaps the only country in Europe, maybe even in the whole world that names Jesus Christ in its constitution….. “we, the people of Ireland, recognise in all humility, our responsibilities to our divine Lord, Jesus Christ who stood by our forefathers during centuries of persecution.”……
2. The Nice agreement and all other contracts are naturally still valid and make the work of the EU institutions possible. How the entrance of 10 new members and the election in the European Parliament are handled, remains to be seen.
3. Should an agreement on the constitution not be reached in the new year either, there are two possible solutions:
(a) an Europe with “varying speeds”, that is, the founding states, “core Europe” would continue on the road to unity and other countries can follow when are ready to. This has already been done, for example, on the monetary level in which England, Denmark and Sweden as member states have consciously not yet changed to the Euro.
(b) a poorer solution would be a Europe of “changing majorities” in which different countries band together to reach a majority for their plans, according to their common interest. This would most probably degenerate into a “horse-trading”-Europe. In the end it would mean: back to state nationalism, in which everyone has only their own interests at heart. The European idea of a peaceful union of states that freely unite would then die.
4. Poland celebrates – and stands on the sidelines. All three opposition parties rejoiced over the outcome in Brussels: the liberal PO, the conservative PiS and the right-wing clerics LPR. Their leaders stated, the summit disaster was the “best present” that God could have given to Poland for Christmas. More than 60% of the Polish agreed with the steadfastness of their Minister President L. Miller. Only the country’s President, A Kwasniewski urged his
countrymen to moderation.
It is obvious that Miller’s refusal in Brussels has a clear inner political background. One of
the opposition leaders let it be heard that, should Miller give in at the summit, he would be greeted upon his return at the airport with a ready-made statement of resignation. The waves are getting high in Poland. For several weeks, the media have been giving the impression that after it is a member of Europe, Poland will be under the yoke of a German-French dictatorship. From this perspective, Miller’s statement in Brussels that Poland is a great and proud country is understandable.
Poland is eye-balling the subsidies from the EU, but has not grasped the European idea of uniting the peoples.
How will it continue with Poland? Poland has turned its vote into a question of national honour. Miller says that more time is needed to develop trust in one another. This is certainly true for new members.
a. On page 4 of the December Call of the Watchmen, I suggested praying that this date (12/13th Dec.) fall through so there would be more time for discussion. So this result is an answer to prayer and, as such, an encouragement to continue to expect God’s intervention.
The economic magazine “Economist” declared the present form of the constitution for “immature” because there should be a few years’ experience of the old and new states in living together in order to create a valid constitution. Deepening the fellowship through a constitution while at the same time expanding by 10(!) new members is probably too much for the EU – at least right now!
b. It is said that never before have the experienced diplomats in Brussels been seen so helpless as
in these days. They were practiced in objectively reaching and formulating binding compromises. However, this debate was not about facts and compromise lines. It was clearly at a deeper level, about emotions and national pride that reared up after decades, even centuries, of humiliation. A people stands up and makes it very clear – at the latest since the EU-referendum in June 2003 – “We Polish are also somebody!”
How can this be answered? Especially when in this context “they” show up, who caused the most damage: the Germans? And again they are “over” us!
Forgotten are Willy Brandt’s bended knees in the Warsaw ghetto. Forgotten too that it was Chancellor Schröder who spoke up for Poland’ membership to the European Union at the earliest date possible.
How can such a partner be won?
Answer. By honouring him publicly.
It is politically impossible to accommodate Poland on the issue of the weight of the votes without reconsidering everything. But perhaps it could be done on a different issue: the question of God!
c. All the conservative Christian delegates from the EVP introduced in the negotiations over a reference to God in the preamble to the Constitution a formulation from the Polish Constitution which everyone thought was liberal enough to please Christian and non-Christian EU citizens.
“In the knowledge that the values of Europe contain the values of all who believe in God as the
source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those
universal values as arising from other source..”
This formulation was rejected causing great disappointment to the EVP delegates.
Could this rejection be part of God's plan to get Poland out of its corner by honouring them through using
their constitution word for word as the beginning of the constitution for the whole of Europe? It would
be a possibility for Poland to accept the “ double Majority” without losing face.
If everything depends on the reference to God, then France and finally Belgium too, would probably give
As Christians in many European countries, we have prayed, struggled, written letters and collected signatures to include the reference to God in the Preamble. We were aware that this was a secondary issue for the politicians and the chances for “success” were small.
Could it be, however, that the “already dispensed with reference to God”, suddenly proves to be the key to open a tightly shut door, so that the whole Contract and its success depends on this reference to God.
It cannot yet be said if it will come to that. Though we should not wonder, since God still personally makes history. But His work is being given room to pray down and believe for His will from Heaven,
…..”Thy good will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven as in your heart, you, our Father.”
d. From the very beginning, I had the impression that the reference to God would be easier to settle under an Irish Council President as under an Italian one. Does God want to honour this small country which is the only one that names Jesus Christ in its constitution, so that, with the help of the name of God, it can lead Europe out of its deepest crisis and point the way for the future.
It would make me happy for Ireland. It would also implement a biblical principle at the highest political level: “Whoever confesses me – Jesus Christ-before man, I will also confess him before my heavenly Father ….. and whoever honours Me, My Father will honour him”. It can well be that Catholic Ireland could find helpful access to an also very troubled Catholic Poland.
· Let us continue to pray with great confidence and not let up and put Europe under the all-powerful hand and name of God.
· The project “Europe – which way” is over for the time being in Germany. Prayer is now needed for the “secret diplomacy” which is not spoken of, but through which God can work as effectively as through direct protest.
· Pray for success in the end, that is, that the name of God will be included. Otherwise, God’s response – which could already be felt in Brussels – would be bewilderment, total confusion and a break up of the project, “United Europe”.
It will depend on people! God also give us Europeans a choice: blessing or curse.
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