Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Kaczynski: Liberum veto

Without the ’liberum veto’ Poland would have a much happier history to remember, so Polish president Lech Kaczynski has offered final proof why the same rule of minority terror must be scrapped if the European Union wants to survive and prosper.

See BBC News item ‘Poland in new blow to EU treaty’:


Those bent on destroying the EU can perhaps find democratic merit in Kaczynski overriding his country’s parliament (at least temporarily deferring signature; legal authority unclear) and Czech president Vaclav Klaus openly agitating against the political commitments of the Czech government.

But for the vast majority of European Union member states and for thinking EU citizens Kaczynski must have driven the final nail into the coffin of the unanimity rule. The same Kaczynski who is personally to blame for many of the worst features of the Lisbon Treaty.

With or without Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland and possibly some others, the willing member states must save the European Union by scrapping the ‘liberum veto’, even if they have to establish a new union to do so.

The added bonus would be that without Kaczynski important reforms could take effect much earlier than 2014 and 2017.

Ralf Grahn

Update 1 July 2008: According to the Wikepedia article on the Treaty of Lisbon, the Polish House of Representatives voted 384 for, 56 against (with 12 abstentions) and the Senate 74 for, 17 against (with 6 abstentions) to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Friends of parliamentary sovereignty take note.


  1. Kaczynski said that ratification was pointless as far as Ireland refuses to agree to the Treaty. It seems to be a correct conclusion.

  2. G,

    Kaczynski's action contradicts the will of the Polish parliament and the conclusions of the European Council, as well as the Lisbon Treaty he agreed to (after playing his veto card repeatedly).

    Do you see him as a person acting in good faith?

    I don't.

  3. I think he does not regard the new treaty as good for Poland. He proposed different solutions (like distribution of vote in the Council according to square root of population), which were not accepted. He agreed to the text of the Treaty probably under the same kind of pressure, which is going to be "applied" to Ireland now. Currently, there is a good political opportunity to give up the ratification procedure because of the result of Irish referendum, so Kaczynski uses his prerogatives.

    Conclusions of European Council, the will Polish parliament... well, so far it is the Head of State who ratfies the Treaty, not the Council nor Parliament.

  4. Love the expression "minority terror".


  5. g,

    So, kaczynski, like Brutus, is an honourable man?

    If you are against a functioning European Union, say so.

    Otherwise, let me despise populist antics and politicking turned into a lifestyle.

  6. Anonymous,

    Thank you for the compliment.

    Liberum veto is worth a thought or two.

  7. "If you are against a functioning European Union, say so."

    No, why? I support EU. However, one should not confuse supporting EU and supporting the Lisbon Treaty.

    "Otherwise, let me despise populist antics and politicking turned into a lifestyle."

    Go on, you have the right to do so. As well as someone else has the right to ridicule hysterical reactions to the failure of ratification process in certain countries.

  8. g,

    Well, analyse the historical and present effects of the liberum veto.

    Would you, with a cool head, call it wise for any organisation to set itself up for disruption from one participant, for instance with ill will, offered a chance for political blackmail, deranged, an agent for outside influences?

    I speak not only for a European Union, but a European Union able to meet its challenges.

  9. The small countries depend on the unanimity rule or they are history. To see the rule being overridden without even a discussion tells you all you need to know about the intentions of the EU to ignore the will of smaller countries, whether they be democratically expressed or otherwise.

    The Lisbon Teaty is based on unanimity. If not all countries ratify, then the Treaty is dead. Sorry about the inconvenience to the great powers who don't like that.

    Leave the Poles alone. They are correct in every way. As is Klaus Vaclav and any others who want to point out the simple facts.

  10. Tapestry,

    On a personal level I am glad to see that you have overcome your bouts of sickness, at least enough to comment.

    The European Union is based on member states mainly, and the smaller ones are heavily overrepresented.

    But if the European Union is reformed along democratic lines, each citizen should have more or less the same weight (one man, one vote).

    There are of course always regional and local interests (pork-barrel) at play in politics, but general legislation would conform more easily with the common good, i.e. the interests of EU citizens (and firms), than current structures favouring states' special interests especially within the Council and against fair play and functioning markets.

    The reality of European nation states in their diversity is however such that the future European Parliament would have to be given two chambers, the first representing the citizens and the second representing the states (although it could be elected by the citizens too; it took fairly long for direct elections of Senators to be established in the United States).

    You will find more circumstancial evidence about your pigheaded heroes in my latest post.

  11. The notion of small countries opposing majority is a recent misconception. Small countries have supported majority throughout the history of the EC/EU, while "big" countries in general(and Britain and France in particular) tend to prefer unanimity.

    Igor Guerra, Italy

  12. Igor Guerra,

    You are more or less right. A few additional remarks on unanimity:

    Britain has fiercely opposed qualified majority voting in the Council, for instance in the common foreign and security policy, including the common security and defence policy, and the UK has allowed the rest of justice and home affairs to shift to almost normal community principles in the Lisbon Treaty only after securing opt-outs.

    France likes to see itself as a great - the great - European nation, but has been reticent to give the EEC/EC/EU the supranational powers and democratic foundations needed to achieve its ambitions for Europe.

    French commentators have often emphasised the importance of a semi-permanent president for the (intergovernmental) European Council, and branded others as opponents of a more effective Europe.

    But, to take one example, when the Finnish government and parliament have been less enthusiastic about the European Council president, it has not been to oppose a more effective union, but to resist encroachment on the role and responsibility of the Commission (Community method).

    These positions can be seen in the ongoing discussion on Lisbon Treaty implementation.

  13. "Well, analyse the historical and present effects of the liberum veto."

    There is a fundamental difference between Polish liberum veto and the unanimity rule in EU, since members of EU are states, while liberum veto could be invoked by a single nobleman.

  14. G,

    With all respect for your defence of Kaczynski, the effects of the liberum veto, then and now, are just as devastating.

  15. So, what is it you are critisizing? The existence of the requirement of unanimity or invoking it?
    If there was no unanimity rule, we would not need to care about France (2005), Netherlands (2005) or Ireland (2008). But since there is such a principle - it can be invoked, can it not?

  16. g,

    I leave it to you to sort out Kaczynski's defiance of both chambers of the Polish parliament and the government.

    In my view, his actions show astounding contempt for elementary parliamentary principles, as well as religious and ethical norms.

    Kaczynski's acts to undermine the Lisbon Treaty he signed (and did so much to weaken) is as mind-boggling, if you consider rules of honourable conduct.

    Yes, I am against the unanimity rule (liberum veto), because it weakens the European Union's capacity to act in the interest of its citizens.

    The European Union needs robust and democratic rules.

    Yes, I am against the use of veto powers, because a weak organisation like the European Union is in need of loyal cooperation by all its members, not disruptive behaviour of the most unedifying kind.

    None of this should come as a surprise to you.

  17. Once unanimity is abolished (if it is abolished at all), there will be no possibility to invoke it, of course. But for now we have valid treaties, which require unanimity in certain areas. It is strange to admit "yes, you have the powe to veto" and still regard relying on this right as something unacceptable.

    Kaczynski emphasized that it is no good to try to extend pressure to Ireland, and this why he does not want to ratify the LT until Ireland does so. And I agree with him, if unanimity rule is to have any meaning. Of course, you may not approve of the requirement of unanimity, nevertheless it is still there. And as long as it is there - it can be invoked.

    Otherwise, an often raised argument that one should agree to Lisbon Treaty because it still requires unanimity in some areas (like taxation) is no more than a deceit.

  18. g,

    You didn't sort out the authority, moral or legal, or even the political wisdom of Kaczynski undermining both parliament and government as well as Poland's standing in the EU.

    If there are other like you, who want him to use veto power 'because it's there', I hope that other European leaders come to their senses sooner rather than later.

    I am sorry that you lower yourself to his level.

  19. "You didn't sort out the authority, moral or legal, or even the political wisdom of Kaczynski undermining both parliament and government as well as Poland's standing in the EU."

    I am not sure what you mean.Kaczynski's signature is necessary to ratify the Treaty. What else legal authority would we need?

    "If there are other like you, who want him to use veto power 'because it's there', I hope that other European leaders come to their senses sooner rather than later."

    I think you still miss the point.
    Firstly, he did not veto anything.
    Secondly, Ireland should not be pushed to ratify the Treaty. I understand the intention of singling Ireland out as the only state which did not ratify the Treaty and of trying to influence her in this way. But not everyone has to approve of such a plan.

    So, it is not about using veto "because it is there" (especially that Kaczynski did not veto anything). It is about allowing free choice to use it, as far as it is allowed by law.

  20. g,

    You may be special enough to see nothing odd in the fact that one person (the Polish president) has, long before the Irish referendum, protracted putting his signature under the ratification bill approved by the parliament, but I think that his interpretation of this formality is bound to cause consternation among people who are not wedded to his interests.

    Is the presidential signature really meant to be a new liberum veto for the president to approve or disapprove acts of parliament in Poland?

    (In most countries there are both constitutional rules and practice setting out exact terms.)

    Pouncing on the first opportunity to distance himself from the treaty he signed, is another example of antics bound to hurt Poland's standing internationally.

    As a European citizen I have been repeatedly embarrassed by Kaczynski's disruptive actions. As a Pole I would be deeply ashamed.

    Let me ask you something:

    Has Poland freely entered a European Union aiming at ever closer union among the peoples of Europe?

    Has Kaczynski?

  21. "Has Poland freely entered a European Union aiming at ever closer union among the peoples of Europe?"

    All 27 states agreed to Nice Treaty rules. And it is NOT Poland, who now wants to change them. It is NOT Poland, who suddenly exclaimed: "How overrepresented some states are! We did not realize, what a mistake. Let us change what we had agreed to."

    As to Poland, I repeat: there is no veto to the Treaty. Kaczynski did not announce that he would not ratify it. Some states did ratify it, some - not yet. Poland is in the latter group.

    Compare it to the ratification process of the so called European Constitution: after referendums in France and in the Netherlands some countries did not ratify the Treaty, they postponed it (Denmark, Poland, Czech Rep., Portugal, how about Sweden?). Would you say that they "vetoed" anything? It is very much the same today.

  22. g,

    President Kaczynski has clearly dragged his feet on signing the Polish ratification bill, long before the Irish referendum, against the will of both parliament and government.

    Others have acted and will act in accordance with their commitments, but president Kaczynski pounces on the first opportunity to thumb his nose at the EU and its member states.

    If he has not said a definite no to some day acting according to his responsibilities, he has on purpose engaged in petty politicking, uncooperative and divisive behaviour, traits the rest of the world (outside his circle of placemen) have come to see as characteristic of his style.

    Neither the EU nor the Polish citizens have in my view benefited from his antics; on the contrary.

    There is nothing sudden about advancing from the Nice Treaty. Poland was represented at the European Convention and Poland signed the Constitutional Treaty and Poland signed the Treaty of Lisbon.

    There is a man of honour for you.

  23. "There is nothing sudden about advancing from the Nice Treaty."

    Actually, there is. In some areas there was a dramatic change of attitude in the Lisbon Treaty. Compare voting rules. And it is "sudden" if a year after Poland enters the EU, a treaty is proposed, which would radically diminish Poland's voting power. So the question should rather be: what were the other states thinking, when they accepted the Nice Treaty, if almost immediately after entering in force it needs to be radically changed (in some matters).
    Anyway, it is irrelevant for the point. I only emphasized, referring to your rhetorical question, that Poland indeed "freely entered" the EU, but it freely entered on the Nice terms. What does this "entering freely" has to do with the Lisbon Treaty? Setting the aim of "ever closer union" does not oblige any state to agree to the Lisbon Treaty.

  24. g,

    In my view it is a worthier cause to work for a democratic European Union, able to enhance the security and prosperity of its citizens, than to defend the anti-parlamentarian and anti-European scheming of president Lech Kaczynski.

    Know thyself.


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