France's half year in command of the European Union got off to a bumpy start yesterday, with a threat by Poland's President to derail the Lisbon Treaty.
Lech Kaczynsk warned he would not sign the treaty reforming EU institutions because the Irish "no" vote in a referendum last month had made his signature "pointless". Although Mr Kaczynski has made similar threats before, his words threaten the unspoken strategy to press Ireland to hold a second referendum in the first half of 2009 by lining up ratification by the other 26 European governments.
That strategy, agreed by Europe's leaders at their recent summit in Brussels, is already threatened by a constitutional court case in the Czech Republic and – to a much lesser degree – by a new, left-wing legal challenge in Germany.
The new warning from Mr Kaczynski – one of the twin brothers who negotiated the treaty for Poland – looks, on the surface, to be more serious. All other Polish institutions are ready to go ahead.
French officials were, however, confident yesterday that Mr Kaczynski would eventually fall into line. Poland is anxious to see the EU enlarged to include Croatia next year. Paris has made it clear it will veto all new members of the EU until the Lisbon rules streamlining EU institutions and voting procedures are firmly in place.
In the meantime, the risk is deepening of a second EU crisis over trade policy – this time of President Nicolas Sarkozy's making. On Monday, the French President renewed his criticism of Peter Mandelson as Europe's chief negotiator at the world trade talks.
He claimed Mr Mandelson's approach would cut European food production by 20 per cent and its agricultural exports by 10 per cent.
"That is 100,000 jobs lost. I will not let that happen," M. Sarkozy said.
Mr Mandelson hit back, through a spokesman, pointing out that the European Commission was pursuing the free trade objectives agreed by all EU governments. "President Sarkozy's further attack is disappointing," the spokesman said.Reuse content