Friday, October 28, 2005

EU: Polish side wants budget deal, quick…

…but Tony Blair wants to talk about ‘work-life balance’!

When they started the meet in the elegant Tudor surroundings of Hampton Court, just outside London – it’s the old palace where Henry VIII used to chase deer and plan radical haircuts for some of his wives - the Polish delegation were hoping the talks would be about the 2007-2013 budget, which they have to start preparing for as early as possible.

Danuta Hubner, the Polish EU Commissioner for Regional Affairs said this week: "The commission's concern is that time is flying, I would like to see this summit contribute to the decision on the budget.”

Blair, however – who occupies the six month rotating EU presidency at the moment – wants to put off those talks until December. He would much prefer to talk about the challenges of globalization, health systems and how the EU should tackle the fashionable (but crushingly boring) subject of ‘work-life balance’.

The British Finance Minster, Gordon Brown, has also commented that the talks should be about opening up EU labour and service markets to meet the challenges of a globalized world, where India and China are out-competing Europe.

When they turned up, the New Labour government must have been hoping to meet new, reforming governments from Germany and Poland, which will go along with these plans. Instead, Germany and Poland sent two ex-prime ministers, Gerhard Schroeder and Marek Belka.

Both countries have just had elections, and both electorates have disappointed the Blairites. Germany has produced a ‘national unity coalition’ – which is another way of saying ‘fudge’ - and Poland seems intent on not producing a coalition at all.

(Pawel Piskorski, MEP for Civic Platform (PO), told Polskie Radio today that he thinks the gap between his party and Law and Justice (PiS) is too wide to be bridged. He also thinks that the Kaczynskis have been dishonest with the voting public. All through the election campaign they were claiming that a coalition with Platform was the only option. But when they got into parliament, the senate, as the largest party, and now with the election of Lech Kaczynski in the presidential palace, their plans changed somewhat).

The largest party in the new Polish parliament, Law and Justice, has already been voting with two parties that will give Tony Blair sleepless nights (and mess up completely his own work-life balance) - the radical farmers’ union, Selfdefence, and the far-right nationalist, League of Polish Families. Both parties are not interested in opening up the EU and making it more flexible at all. They want to renegotiate Poland’s terms of entry into the 25-nation union and maintain a programme of protectionism and social welfare, very much like the French ‘social Europe’ model.

This week Law and Justice, along with their new nationalist friends, voted in as Speaker of the Lower House (a very important role in Poland) Marek Jurek, one of the PiS MPs who voted against Poland’s entry into the EU.

Blair was hoping that Poland would be a future ally in his bid to reform the EU. But Law and Justine, under the leadership of the Kaczynski twins, aim to scupper any tampering with the Common Agricultural Policy – Poland has two million farms, 1 in 4 of the population rely on agriculture for a living, and many of them voted PiS in the election.

So it’s hard to see a way out of the stalemate in Brussels, and the maze in the gardens at Hampton Court Palace. Tony Blair’s presidency – which started with a bang in July with his ‘we must reform’ speech - has been reduced to a whimper; his plans ruined by unpredictable electorates, and friendly coalitions that refuse to be born.

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