Government and President: divergent viewpoints about Lisbon Treaty

Foundation for European Studies - European Institute

Overview
 
The Polish parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty on the 1st of April 2008 (396 for and only 56 votes against). During the following week the Senate swiftly ratified it. The Polish President Lech Kaczyński has been threatening since mid-March that he would obstruct the ratification unless the government prepared a parliamentary resolution according to which Poland would not withdraw the opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights and forego the ‘Ioannina compromise’. The party “Law and Justice” also wanted a guarantee stipulating that Polish law remained the highest law in the country and that any further transfer of competences to the supranational level would need the approval of the President. After Civic Platform promised to prepare such a resolution the President agreed to drop his reservations concerning the Treaty.
 
After the Irish ‘No’, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on numerous occasions (during the European Council, the bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Merkel) agreed with the official EU line to continue the ratification process. “The result of the Irish referendum does not have to rule out the chances of its implementation. The EU will find the way out of this conundrum.”[1] At the same time the Prime Minister strongly demanded that the Irish objections were treated seriously and that no one exerted too much pressure on Dublin. “It is the Irish government which has to propose something.”[2] During the June European Council Summit Poland was among those countries which rejected the idea that without the Lisbon Treaty there was no possibility for the EU to enlarge any further, thus contradicting both France and Germany.
 
On the 1st of July the President, Lech Kaczyński, in an interview with the daily “Dziennik” said that the ratification of the treaty by Poland was, in current circumstances, pointless. The government reacted immediately and firmly. Prime Minister Tusk called Kaczyński’s declaration unfortunate. “The ratification of the treaty is in the Polish interest. Poland should not be perceived as a country which has problems with the treaty.”[3] Tusk carried on during his press conference by explaining that the behaviour of the Polish President will decrease Poland’s credibility and weaken its hand in negotiations of difficult dossiers under the French Presidency. After the vehement critique from many European capitals and phone conversations with Nicolas Sarkozy, Lech Kaczyński toned down his rhetoric against the Lisbon Treaty. “If the Irish change their mind, not under pressure, but of their own free will, there will not be the slightest obstacle to ratification from the Polish side [...] I will also sign the treaty”, he said on a visit to Georgia. “I had a big role in negotiating this treaty, and I support it”.[4] It has to be said that Kaczyński’s behaviour was motivated largely by internal Polish politics (this was why he pronounced with a delay his negative position referring to the outcome of Irish referendum). President Kaczyński wanted to win oversight over Polish European policy, gain conservative votes for his party “Law and Justice” and put pressure on the government to accept the US missile shield. After strong reactions, the president somewhat surprised by the outcry he had provoked, is on the defensive. The president’s stance was criticized by both the “Civic Platform” and the “Social-democrats”, whose leader Grzegorz Napieralski used his meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister José Rodríguez Zapatero to publicly scold the Polish President. The Polish parliament prepared the resolution that would urge the head of the state to ratify the treaty. Most commentators agree that Kaczyński’s move was unfortunate, although some also wonder why Prime Minister Tusk was ready to declare that the Constitutional Treaty was dead after the French and Dutch referenda and now thinks otherwise. Most Polish politicians, commentators and think-tank experts agree that the referendum in Ireland will be repeated, although it is an option that implies certain costs (decreasing the EU’s credibility). The Irish may be placated by some declarations designed to reduce unfounded fears, everyone agrees however, that it is close to impossible to renegotiate the treaty (possibly with the exception of the composition of the European Commission which could be changed in the next Accession Treaty). All serious Polish political forces and commentators reject the option according to which Ireland should be excluded from the EU.
 
Media coverage
 
Although the question of the Lisbon Treaty was present earlier in the media coverage (during the parliamentary debate over ratification of the ratification bill), it enjoyed the increased interest of the media after the announcement of the results of the Irish referendum. The media coverage presented the views of both experts and representatives of major political scene actors. Major public opinion surveys were conducted before the Irish referendum yet they present the public views over the treaty ratification and the treaty itself and we present them shortly alongside the opinions of politicians and experts following the Irish veto.
 
Specialists views
 
Jan Barcz, one of Poland’s leading specialists in EU law, suggested after the failure of the Irish referendum that the ratification process should be continued in other member states, including Poland. At the same time he suggested that the failed ratification is not a tragedy, as the European Union can still work under the current treaties in force, especially taking into account the fact that the EU has some time left before ultimately a reform is needed. The ultimate dates ,when a reform is needed, are either the time of instituting new European Parliament of the 7th term in 2009 or even 2014, while some of the Lisbon Treaty mechanisms had to be launched in advance.[5] Marek Cichocki, one of former negotiators of the treaty and advisor to the Polish President suggested “today the worst scenario for the EU would be ‘pushing’ the Lisbon Treaty against the moods and opinions in some of the member states”[6]. He also stressed that if the referenda had held in other countries, Ireland would not have probably been the only country in which the treaty ratification was a failure. In the opinion of Cichocki, currently the situation is not dramatic as the union keeps functioning under the provisions of the Nice Treaty. Still – in his view – the union has a serious legitimisation problem that should be dealt with carefully (not only after the Irish, but also previous French and Dutch referenda over Constitutional Treaty) in order to check out what is wrong with the European project if it does not find support and understanding among the Union’s inhabitants. In the view of the experts there is little likelihood that the treaty can be ratified – as planned – by 1st January 2009, and that this will have consequences for the current activities of the European Union and for the French, Swedish and Czech Presidencies, which will be dominated by the question of what to do with the Lisbon Treaty.[7] Pawel Swieboda, the head of the research centre “demosEuropa” suggested that the failure of the treaty in the referendum has nothing to do with support for the European integration idea, as this remains strong among the Irish. He proposed three scenarios for the future after the Irish ‘No’: 1) continuation of the ratification process and the consequent pressure on Ireland to discuss with the partners its main problems and possibly – after being granted additional guarantees - and possibly repeat the referendum. He adds however that this solution is complicated because after the failed referenda on the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands the works for the new treaty opened and nobody was forced to change opinion; 2) the second scenario would be to postpone the reform until the emotions calms down and begin the process anew in a more democratic form; 3) the third scenario would be to reform the European Union without changing everything at once – as the core of the problem lies in opening the whole spectrum of the union’s problems together.[8] He added that even if a referendum is not the ideal instrument for the Union’s reform, it should be treated seriously and the ‘Irish problem’ if followed by right conclusions can be perceived one day as a salutary turning point, which will strengthen – instead of blowing up – the European project.
 
Government’s and governing parties’ view
 
Just after the results of the Irish referendum were announced, Prime Minister Donald Tusk proposed that despite the Irish ‘No,’ the treaty ratification process should continue.[9] On 16th of June, during joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Gdansk, he advised that the ratification process should be continued despite the Irish veto.[10]
 
On 19th of June, the Prime Minister expressed his criticism against the idea of a ‘two-speed Europe’ and disrespecting Ireland. He claimed for respect for all partners in the Union, regardless of their size and suggested that the union should not undertake any impulsive decisions. He added that the union could still function on the basis of the Nice Treaty – as the treaty was meant to improve the union and not to save it from any disaster.[11] While commenting on the opinion of French President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Tusk opposed the view that without the Lisbon Treaty it would not be possible.[12] Commenting further for newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza”,[13] Prime Minister Tusk expressed his hopes that the union will find a solution for the treaty’s entry into force, however with full respect for the Irish opinion, subtlety and tact. He stressed that the decline of the treaty does not mean the faultiness of the treaty itself. Similar comments came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs who reinforced that the treaty was not opposed by the candidates countries, willing to join the EU. He opposed the opinion that the treaty failure was caused by enlargement, new members or the candidates. He added that from the technical point of view further enlargement is possible without the Lisbon Treaty, by means of accession treaties, in case there is still the political will to enlarge the EU.[14] On June 18th, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Grażyna Bernatowicz, announced that during the forthcoming summit Poland would advocate the continuation of the ratification process. She suggested that the successful ratification in 26 member states would not necessarily put pressure on Ireland but instead could be an encouragement for Ireland to change its views. The Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs added that the worst solution for the union would be the revival of the attempts of some member states to organise themselves around the structures of enhanced cooperation, e.g. ‘Euroland’.[15] Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, head of the Office of the Committee for European Integration commented that the European Union was able to overcome greater problems and that the Irish ’No’ does not mean the end of the union’s functioning. Therefore, it would be advisable to act with caution and understanding in order to find a solution enabling Union’s functioning with due consideration of Irish doubts. The basis for that should be – in the view of Dowgielewicz – the careful analysis of the Irish ‘No’ by both the Irish government as well as the European institutions. The union, he adds, should be able to present not only legal solutions but also a political vision to explain the Irish and other European citizens why the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty is important and what would that mean for them.[16]
 
The Marshal of the lower house of the Polish parliament (“Sejm”) hoped that solutions could be found under Irish law or alternatively a compromise solution can be found by the union similarly to the formula of Lisbon Treaty adopted after the failed ratification of the Constitutional Treaty. The Marshal of the the upper house of the Polish parliament (“Senate”) declared his support for the treaty adoption and stressed that the hold-up of the treaty did not came from the new member states.
 
A representative of the “Polish Peasants’ Party”, which is part of the governing coalition, advocated prompt ratification of the treaty by the Polish President so that Poland could be in the nion’s vanguard group in case the ’two-speed Europe‘ situation occurs.[17]
 
President – countersignature on the ratification bill question
 
The position of the President of the Republic of Poland has undergone some change since the early reaction until the most recent declarations regarding finalisation of the ratification process.
 
On 15th of June[18] the Minister at the Chancellery of the Polish President, Michał Kamiński, announced that the president would countersign the ratification bill after fulfilment of the ‘political agreement’ with the prime minister (See above).[19] The president himself on the 16th of June appealed for respect for the Irish decision so that nothing is imposed on Europe’s nations, being the union of free, sovereign nations and people and that all countries should be treated equally.[20] According to daily “Dziennik”[21], on 20th of June the president declared “he will not hurry” with the countersignature of the ratification bill. The most recent news releases communicate that in a telephone conversation with French President Sarkozy, Polish President Kaczyński declared that Poland would not be an obstacle to the ratification process.[22]
 
Opposition parties

 
The former Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pawel Kowal, current MP of “Law and Justice”, appealed for respect for the Irish decision.[23] On the 22nd of June other members of the party stressed that in their view the situation is analogous to that after the Constitunial Treaty failure, which means that after the defeat of the treaty by Ireland that the treaty is bound to be considered as not ratified and that further works over ratification in other countries would become pointless.[24] Former leader of the “Left Democratic Alliance”, the openly pro-European party, expressed his serious doubt about prompt ratification of the bill by the Polish President.[25]
 
On 19th of June nine Polish MEPs of ALDE and PES group appealed to the president for urgent countersigning of the ratification bill. They stressed that Poland should actively involve in the process aimed at overcoming the post-referendum crisis. The MEPs identified the European Union’s reform process as indispensable, while common foreign and energy policies together with further enlargements as the ones essential for both the EU and Poland. In the same statement they expressed their opposition against the ‘two-speed Europe’ concept and stressed that they wished Poland to be among the leaders of European integration.
 
Public opinion
 
The opinion poll by “PBS DGA” on 16th March addressed the question of the desired model of Lisbon Treaty ratification in Poland and the public attitude towards the treaty itself if the treaty had been ratified by referendum and not by parliamentary vote. An equal number of 42 percent of respondents would like to see the referendum and parliamentary ratification with 16 percent undecided. With regards to the hypothetical popular voting: almost 60 percent of the respondents did not know how they would vote, while 36 percent declared voting for, 6 percent would vote against and 3 percent provided the answer ‘hard to tell’.[26] Another poll[27] published in May 2008 indicates that the question of ratification is not very important for public opinion with only 7 percent of respondents declaring high interest in the issues (37 percent of the total number of those interested) and about 60 percent of those not interested. However 55 percent of the interviewees suggested that the Polish President should ratify the document, with 54 percent convinced that ratification of the treaty will contribute to strengthening of cooperation between the member states and improvements in the union’s functioning.




[1] See: www.euractiv.pl (last access: 13.06.2008).

[2] See: http://wiadomosci.wp.pl (last accesss: 13.06.2008).

[3] See: http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl (01.07.2008).

[4] Euobserver, 05.07.2008.

[5] European service of the Polish Press Agency: Intervention in the debate over Irish referendum on 20 June 2008, available under: www.europap.com.pl (last access: 01.09.2008).

[6] Ibid.

[7] See: www.eruopap.com.pl (last access: 23.06.2008).

[8] Gazeta Wyborcza, 14./15.06.2008, p. 10.

[9] See: www.europap.com.pl, 18.06.2008, (last access: 23.06.2008).

[10] See: www.europap.com.pl, 16.06.2008, (last access: 23.06.2008).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Similar views expressed the Prime Minister already earlier during the press conference with Angela Merkel on June 16th 2008. See: www.eruopap.com.pl (last access: 23.06.2008).

[13] Gazeta Wyborcza,14./15.06.2008, p. 10.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Stanislaw Zelichowski, MP, quoted in business portal money.pl after Polish Press Agency, available under: www.money.pl (last access: 04.07.2008).

[18] Minister Miachal Kamiski on Radio ZET quoted after: www.europap.com.pl (last access: 23.06.2008).

[19] Safeguard clauses in granting negotiation mandate to Polish delegates to EU institutions in case EU debates over decision-making procedures.

[20] President Kaczynski during visit in Lithuania. See: www.europap.com.pl (last access: 23.06.2008).

[21] See: www.europap.com.pl. (last access: 23.06.2008).

[22] Polish Press Agency, 04.07.2008, quoted after Puls Biznesu website: www.bp.pl (last access:04.07.2008).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Przemyslaw Gosiewki, MP, former Deputy Prime Minister, on Radio ZET quoted in: www.europap.com.pl (last access: 04.07.2008).

[25] Wojciech Olejniczak on Radio ZET, source: http://www.europap.com.pl/.

[26] PBS DGA for Gazeta Wyborcza, poll, 16.03.2008, available under: www.pbs.dga.pl. (last access: 03.09.2008).

[27] Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS): Opinie o traktacie lizbońskim (Public Opinion about the Lisbon Treaty), research communiqué BS/74/2008, May 2008, p. 2, available under: www.cbos.pl (last access: 03.09.2008).