Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Poland refuses the conclusions. Alright so then...

Beata Szydlo at the European summit on March 9: it's not a party (Credit: Council of the EU)

(B2) If someone did not know the Polish Prime Minister yet, this is no longer the case. Beata Szydlo got a nickname for herself within the confines of the European summit: the pain in the ass!

In diplomatic memory, we had not yet seen a State agree on everything but finally say... "No", just to say "No". Usually there are rational reasons, related to the content of the text. Here we are looking...

What is Consensus? How do we get there?

According to the very terms of the Treaty, the conclusions of a European Council are established by consensus. It is a political decision, not a legal one. There is no vote per se, just an expression of agreement. Consensus is not quite unanimity, it is the fact of being in agreement on almost everything, and of not having a global problem on the whole. To reach this consensus, we adopt a system of successive waves. First there are intermediate meetings – at the level of ambassadors – then the ministers of European affairs take a look at them, all of which is reviewed by the sherpas of the presidents or prime ministers. Gradually, this text is refined, elements disappear, others appear or are rewritten. A bit like the tides come to polish the pebble.

How is consensus expressed?

Finally, at the European Council, there are often only a few points of disagreement (sometimes very deep, very important politically). We then try to write a new paragraph to satisfy everyone. It is then the president himself who rewrites the relevant passage directly with the Chiefs. Or, more usually, it's the Sherpas who go to the next room, passing by, if necessary, at night, to find the formula that will please everyone. In the end, the President of the European Council asks if anyone is against it. And generally, even though there may be a grunt or two, if no one speaks out clearly against it, it passes. If, despite everything, a difficulty remains, there are several possibilities to get out of it.

Europeans past virtuosos to express disagreements in the agreement


Europeans have mastered the way of expressing (or not expressing) disagreement, while not questioning the consensus. First method: we add one or two words relativizing the question (if necessary), often the most insipid possible (which are understood only by their authors), or we fix a date clause (we will re-examine the question at the next meeting). Second method: one can also avoid talking about the annoying situation, by referring to the conclusions of a previous council or to a report mentioned in the appendix (it is up to everyone to see what this refers to, but, expressly, the conclusions do not mention the subject).

The importance of the footnote

Third method: add an interpretative or complementary declaration by a Member State, or even a footnote to indicate the disagreement of a government on a given point (this was the case, for example, with Hungary on the issue of migrants ). Fourth method: the head of government leaves when the conclusions are adopted, which prevents him from expressing his disagreement. But honor is safe. Last method: If the disagreement persists despite everything, there remains the possibility of having a declaration by the presidency, possibly in the name of the 27 or the 28 (as the case may be) which has the same value as the conclusions (since it is not than a political document).

In short... in terms of consensus, we can see that Europe has a long experience of expressing disagreements discreetly, with art and style, without preventing progress.

What will Poland win?

By persisting in a "niet", Poland could, in the end, not really gain anything, if not to show that it exists and is a big sulky. On issues as interesting as economic growth, jobs, the migrant crisis, the Balkans – which go in the direction of Polish policy – ​​it's a bit of a shame. And this is an unfortunate precedent. The next time the conclusions are discussed, it is not sure that Poland's opinion will be taken seriously. Why try to conciliate the good views of a country which has finally decided not to approve the conclusions, just for fun.

Let us agree: the refusal of the conclusions is a nuclear weapon, it serves only once, and with a very good reason. The national interest must really be at stake (1) — a refusal which, in this case, is accepted because everyone knows that they may one day have to make use of this necessity — and not only that love clean or injured.

The only conclusion of the Council: the appointment of Tusk?

If the conclusions are not endorsed as such, the only written result of the European Council could ultimately be... the decision endorsing the appointment of the new president. It's quite paradoxical since that's what caused theire polish of the day. But that's the reality. This text is, in fact, a legal decision which does not appear as such in the conclusions. In general, "out of courtesy", we greet the new personality, explains to B2 a diplomat. But this is just a "form of politeness". We can do without.

A statement on behalf of the 27

Then, it is always possible for the President of the European Council, or even the Maltese Presidency, to endorse, "on behalf of the 27", a set of conclusions, or even a declaration, or simply the "results of the Council's discussions". For Poland, which has always wanted to be part of the heart of Europe, it would be one hell of an additional snub: a sort of political Polxit. At a time when negotiations are about to begin on the revision of the financial perspectives, this is not really the friendliest way to find allies.

Hungarians and Poles, same fight?

The only country that has a similar attitude to Poland is Hungary, but with a very clear difference, explains a diplomat who regularly follows such meetings: “ Viktor Orban still has a very firm position. But, at the last moment, he negotiates, he plays the European game, he is more flexible (NB: even if it means saying the opposite on the national scene, once out of the European Council). He has always been able to create allies in this way. And, at the political level, there is a big difference, he is a member of the EPP, the European People's Party, which protects him in a way. He is part of the circle. »

The Kaczynski team, stubborn?

The PiS Poles are stubborn. Those who remember, in the corridors of Europe, remember how the Kaczyński team fought, tooth and nail, sometimes in a totally irrational way, against the establishment of the double majority in the Treaty of Lisbon, to keep the old numbers nice. In the end, it was decided to extend the Ioannina compromise somewhat. A fight that, in the end, was for nothing. This device, which expires in a few days, on March 31, has hardly ever been used. When the Poles wanted to use it, at the last Environment Council (2), the Council's lawyers came to remind us that it was... too late! The device expired in a few weeks.

A battle won for nothing, if not to have fun... and to make enemies around the European table.

The lost battle of the qualified majority...

Meanwhile, since the Treaty of Nice, Poland has dropped out of the group of large countries, the population gap which was 4 million in 2005 has now doubled. What the Polish power had conquered, by battling hard in the corridors of Europe, without ever really using it, it lost it again... in the alcoves, on the terrain of demography. The political reality today is that Poland has slipped out of the group of leading countries. ... And it's not Europe's fault, just natural law.

The real reason for Polish anger?

The exit of the United Kingdom could accelerate, in a paradoxical way, the isolation of Poland. We can notice that during the last meeting, in Versailles, in mini-group, there were indeed four countries and not only the Franco-German couple, to affirm the desire for "differentiated cooperation". Among the "large and medium" countries, there was a Polish leader missing. As if to affirm that differentiated cooperation is ... without Poland. The real reason for the "little anger" of Szydlo isn't it there, that of being excluded from the group of "big guys" and from other European advances. The "lighthouse" of Poland is well extinguished. And it's a shame for those who love this country.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Ireland used it to preserve its neutrality, Luxembourg to preserve its tax model, France for culture, Slovenia to settle its border problem with Croatia, etc.

(2) It was a question of adopting a general approach which is not, in itself, a formal vote, but an indication of a vote, an approach to negotiate with the European Parliament, the vote taking place later, at the end of the negotiation.

(updated Friday morning, on the passage of differentiated cooperation)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).