Poland drops opposition to EU constitution

Poland has dropped its opposition to signing the so-called Berlin Declaration, the document intended to relaunch the European constitution, following a two-day visit by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

In a sign of the thaw in relations between the two countries Lech Kaczynski, Poland's president, said on Saturday that Poland did not want to be the only EU countries not to sign the declaration.

Although Mr Kaczynski said that he was giving the “green light” to restart work on the constitution, Poland is still pushing to include mention of Europe's Christian heritage. Other stumbling blocks include Warsaw's insistence that the EU's current voting system, which gives Poland almost as many votes as Germany, cannot be changed to reflect Germany's much larger population.

The Declaration is to be presented this week during celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the EU's founding Treaty of Rome. Poland had been wary of signing because the government has not felt an urgent need to reopen the constitution following its rejection by voters in France and the Netherlands.

“Mr Kaczynski's comments show Poland is willing to make compromises, but the gap between the two sides over the voting system is still enormous,” said Pawel Swieboda, head of DemosEuropa, a European policy think tank.

Ms Merkel's visit, which included a 15-minute forest stroll near Mr Kaczynski's residence on the Hel Peninsula jutting out into the Baltic, seemed to leave ties between the neighbours in a much better state.

The German leader gave a well-received speech in Warsaw, where she talked of Polish culture, her experience of growing up in Communist East Germany, and Poland's fight against Communism. The difference in tone between Ms Merkel and her much more Russophile predecessor, Gerhardt Schröder, was striking.

“Merkel accomplished an enormous emotional opening toward Poland,” said Mr Swieboda.

Mr Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, the prime minister, have tended to view Germany through the lens of Poland's horrific wartime experiences. They have also reacted with hostility to unfavorable articles in the German media while their views on homosexuality and other moral issues have been badly received in Germany.

However, in recent months there has been a warming , which Mr Kaczynski did his best not to dissipate. In his talks with Ms Merkel, the Polish president did not raise the emotional historical issue of Germans filing land claims against Poland for restitution of property lost after the Soviets and the western allies shifted Poland's borders hundreds of kilometres to the west after the war. He also spent little time talking about the controversial Russian-German Baltic gas pipeline.

The two also talked of Poland's possible participation in the US missile defence shield, which Germany would like to include Nato.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, expressed serious reservations at the weekend about the US’s proposed military defence programme against possible missile threats from Iran.

The arguments surrounding Washington’s proposals appear to some “reminiscent of the past Cold War period,” and the continent should not allow itself to be split into “old” and “new” Europe, Mr Steinmeier wrote in an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Jacques Chirac, French president, has voiced similar misgivings.

“A missile defence system cannot become either a cause or excuse for a new armament round…We don’t want a new arms race in Europe,” Mr Steinmeier said. “Nobody wants to call into question the carefully-balanced structure of disarmament and armament control agreements.”

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