Poland to join UK opt-out of EU rights charter

Poland officially announced late last week it would join Britain in opting out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a cornerstone of the new treaty meant to replace the proposed EU constitution.

“Poland has announced it will join the British protocol, while negotiating in parallel the clauses confirming Poland’s respect for the elevated social norms,” said a Polish Foreign Ministry statement.

EU leaders in June agreed the framework of a treaty to improve EU organization in place of the constitution that was torpedoed by French and Dutch voters in 2005. Britain negotiated its opt-out at the EU summit. The summit framework said the treaty would note that “nothing” in the 54-point Charter of Fundamental Rights – rights enjoyed by EU citizens and residents – “creates justifiable rights applicable to the United Kingdom.”

Portugal, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has been pushing EU members to keep the new treaty on track, amid fears that Poland could derail efforts to finalize an agreement next month. It wants a deal by an October 18-19 summit, even with Poland due to hold politically sensitive legislative elections just days after that meeting.

Poland, the biggest of 10 mainly ex-Communist countries that joined the EU in 2004, has regularly used its political weight, notably to get its way on its share of the bloc’s long-term budget. At the June summit Ireland and Poland made it clear that they could consider an opt-out. Warsaw later said it would probably reject the charter.The Foreign Ministry statement now said Poland would press for an inclusion in the future treaty of the so-called Ioannina mechanism which allows for a temporary freeze of EU decisions when a small number of EU countries disagrees.

Warsaw does not want the clause, named after a Greek city, to be merely mentioned in an annex as planned in the current draft. But Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said last week that almost all other EU governments were rejecting the Polish demand. The provision would compensate Poland’s relative loss of influence in the new weighting mechanism provided for by the treaty from 2017.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Robert Szaniawski meanwhile told AFP the “government fears that certain general charter provisions involving moral and family issues could have legal consequences” in contradiction with Polish law. Poland’s right-wing coalition is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriages which are legal in a number of EU countries.

The government official in charge of German-Polish relations, Mariusz Muszynski, also noted that the charter which puts EU law above national law could abort attempts by Warsaw to settle a controversy with Germany over property abandoned by residents who left Poland for the West from the 1950s and became German citizens. Should Poland agree to the charter, “which definitively bans expropriating [people] without proper compensation, Warsaw bids to settle [the German property issue] would be stalled,” Muszynski said in a contribution to the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

While refusing to sign the charter, Warsaw appears willing to reaffirm its respect of social norms and working standards enshrined in the draft. Questioned by AFP, spokesman Szaniawski would not be drawn on how this could be done. “We will discuss this with our European partners,” he said.

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