Poland threatens to block EU treaty in demand for more power

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The Independent Online

The Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, flew to Paris yesterday for talks that could decide the fate of the proposed new European Union "reform" treaty. The twin brothers who rule Poland are still haggling over the small print of the deal which they accepted at the Brussels summit in June.

It remains unclear whether this amounts to a genuine threat to the revised treaty or electoral brinkmanship. Poland has a parliamentary election three days after EU leaders are due to meet in Lisbon, on 18 October, to approve the treaty's final text, published in Brussels on Friday.

Mr Kaczynski will have talks today with the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who played a leading role in persuading Warsaw to accept the draft treaty in June. The Polish President will also have talks later in the week with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Warsaw has protested that the text produced by the Portuguese EU presidency does not include some important details of a late-night deal on voting rights, which prevented a collapse of the EU summit in June.

Instead of the old system of votes weighted vaguely according to a nation's size, it has now been agreed that majority decisions in the EU Council of Ministers should require approval by 55 per cent of states, representing 65 per cent of the EU's population.

Warsaw had initially protested that this gave too much weight to Germany, the EU's largest country. Jaroslow Kaczynski even complained that Germany was responsible for decimating the Polish population during the Second World War and should not be allowed to profit politically from its greater population.

Finally, the twins agreed that the new voting rules could apply from 2014 and that the Poles could insist on using the old system until 2017. They also won agreement to revive an old mechanism which allows one member state to delay a vote that it seems likely to lose.This delay mechanism was not included in the text published by Brussels last week.

Gordon Brown, meanwhile, facing a Commons debate on European reform on Wednesday, insisted yesterday that he too would block the new treaty if it does not meet Britain's so called "red lines".

British negotiators, however. indicated on Friday that they were happy with the text, which solidifies an opt-out promised to Britain on police and judicial co-operation. "It delivers our red lines on justice and home affairs. We will now read the treaty carefully to check that it contains all of our red lines in full," said one high-ranking official.

EU leaders will be relieved that the Prime Minister's decision to rule out an early election means he is less vulnerable to political pressure for a referendum on the treaty. The Conservatives, who say the new treaty is 90 per cent the same as the text rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, UKIP and some Labour MPs argue that a referendum is needed.

Of the 27 EU nations only Ireland is compelled by its constitution to hold a referendum before it can ratify the new treaty.