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Hard-headed barter imperils Poland’s EU relationships

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

WARSAW — Poland's all-or-nothing negotiating style helped the post-communist state win concessions over a new treaty to which EU leaders agreed in the wee hours yesterday morning, but at the cost of relations with some key partners in the 27-nation bloc.

The twins who lead Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, held up the deal at the summit in Brussels as a victory and said it reinforced Poland's standing in the European Union.

But commentators say the brothers' over-the-top rhetoric — particularly repeated references to the Nazi occupation — could cause long-term or even permanent harm to relations with Germany and other continental heavyweights.

"I am happy there was a compromise," said Irena Lipowicz, a foreign affairs specialist at Warsaw's Stefan Wyszynski University. "But the political costs and the cost in terms of image, as well as our ability to cooperate with other countries, are very, very high indeed."

The prime minister shocked EU leaders when he said Poland deserved a greater share of voting rights on key EU decisions because its population would be bigger than the current 38 million if not for the fact that millions of Poles were killed by the Nazis.

EU leaders also were exasperated when Jaroslaw Kaczynski, despite being in Warsaw rather than at the summit, announced late Friday that Poland had no option but to veto the deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, summit hostess, said she would seek a treaty anyway, even if that meant excluding Poland.

The Poles eventually settled for a compromise that meant the new voting system would be delayed until 2017 — a deal that some other countries thought was too favorable to Poland.

In Brussels, President Kaczynski said Poland would now be able to cooperate better with key European states.

"After today, Poland is capable of much better cooperation with France, Britain and also Germany," he said.

But the Kaczynskis had gained a reputation as unpredictable negotiators and will have their work cut out to end Poland's image among EU partners as an awkward newcomer.

Suspicious of Brussels and openly pro-American, the brothers have threatened to torpedo key EU decisions. Their government also is viewed with distaste by some in the European Union for appearing to tolerate xenophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.

The Kaczynskis, like many Poles, hold a deep suspicion of Germany because of Poland's suffering under Nazi occupation. They see other Western European states as having done little to stop Poland from falling under Soviet rule after World War II.

Political analysts say that while formal power counts in the European Union, the ability to build alliances and conduct informal diplomacy could be more significant for influence within the bloc.

"It is good that a compromise has been achieved and that Poland has not blocked the deal in the end," said opposition politician Bronislaw Geremek, Poland's former foreign minister. "But the arguments they used caused permanent scars, and this is very worrying for the future," he said. "Poland has to accept that Germany is a strong country and will remain a strong country in the EU."