It's no joke to ask how many Poles it takes to stop Germany from muscling through a new European Union "reform" treaty -- a stopgap measure in place of the EU's unsuccessful attempt at a constitutional accord. The answer is it takes only two, the twin brothers Kaczynski who are president and prime minister of Poland.
This year Germany occupies the rotating EU presidency, and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, wants to leave both her personal and national mark on the contemporary structure of Europe. The treaty under negotiation last week at the EU summit was hoped to make the union more effective externally as an international body and internally as a disciplined institution of 27 members.
The whole process came to a standstill when the twin Polish leaders, Lech and Jaroslaw, president and prime minister, respectively, adamantly refused to go along with the German plan of a population-based voting formula. For the Kaczynskis -- and it all did come down to something that personal -- Poland would be cheated of its rightful representation by the fact that so many Poles had been killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Depending on one's point of view, the Polish position was either a futile exercise in ancient history or a serious issue of recognition of a nation's grievous loss of millions of innocent civilians. But for the Poles it was also something else: a chance to curb the German tendency to seek domination.
For her part Angela Merkel had reached the point on the night of Friday, June 22, where she indicated she would go ahead with the treaty without Polish agreement. This brought Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy to the forefront of the battle in the early hours of the next day.
Joined by the clever, veteran statesman Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of tiny Luxembourg, the Englishman and Frenchman double and triple-teamed the hard swinging Lech Kaczynski who finally consented to get on the phone to his brother Jaroslaw. Back and forth it went in one of those ever-complicated group conference calls.
At some point it was reported that the twins used some choice Polish language to describe what they considered German attempts to get them to "surrender." That's not a term Poles like to hear or think they hear. Eventually, though, the argument came down to forcing a delay in the operational application of the new voting system for ten years.
It had been bloody, but the Poles won on both moral and practical grounds as presumably they did some quick calculations of comparative birth rates. The one thing that was clear was that in the final analysis it was individual European leaders arguing into the wee hours in Brussels that contrived a settlement.
The public thinks of negotiations such as this as decorous affairs with quiet deals made in pleasant surroundings by intelligent and patient professionals. Well, deals were made and most of the participants were quite smart, but the atmosphere during this gathering was hardly decorous.
There was shouting and swearing, threats and gestures, and just about anything and everything one can think of. At one point Chancellor Merkel had to suspend the meeting just to settle things down. In the end, however, the EU ended up with some positive steps through its "reform" treaty.
The European Union would now have a full time president; a new "high representative" for foreign and security affairs (in place of the unacceptable title of foreign minister); a European diplomatic service; fewer national vetoes; a double majority voting system wherein 55% of nations representing 65% of total population would carry legislation. And important in terms of international prestige there will be a strong legal status for representation as a body in multilateral councils.
Essential for Warsaw, however, was the fact that it showed the rest of Europe there was no room for Polish small boy jokes anymore. The twins are happy. They know that besides the Germans in the EU, the Russians were watching from the outside. Poles have very long memories.
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