Accession to the ever unfinished demos

Article published on April 1, 2003
community published
Article published on April 1, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The Czech Republic and Poland in the Convention.

The European Convention is the first European Institution where accession state representatives participate on equal basis with those of the present Member States of the Union. One year of its deliberations has already passed and approximately one year remains before the accession countries become full members of the European Union. During that time two simultaneous processes are taking place: one of accession negotiations and ratification procedures, and the second of preparations for the next Intergovernmental Conference, denoting an exercise of writing a European Constitution on the basis of a broad discussion on the future of Europe. The complexity of this process is nicely captured in an assertion of the former Czech President Vaclav Havel: Going through [the treaties] I realised, that they represent an effect of a great deal of work, but are not accessible for a school pupil. We need to transform this mass of paper into a fundamental law, a European constitution, that could be understood by everyone (1). These two processes are separate in the sense that the first relates to the preparation of the accession States for adoption to EU political, legal and economic processes, while the other relates to the constitutional reshaping of the Unions institutional and legal structure. On the other hand, these processes are connected in that the debate on the future of Europe and the work of the Convention effectively remodels the Union that the ten new states accede to.

Equal or not?

Representatives from the accession countries, including the Czech Republic and Poland, face a difficult task in the Convention for a number of reasons. First, they come to Brussels only for their respective Working Group meetings and the plenary sessions, being disadvantaged in comparison to the MEPs and other delegates, who have more frequent contact with Brussels and thus greater opportunities to discuss the issues on informal basis. Secondly, the accession state representatives are less fluent in the European jargon and have less experience with the detailed functioning of the system, which places a burden on them and makes them less agile in action. Finally, the candidate country status limits their ability in influencing the debate. Simultaneously, the accession state Conventionalists have effectively contributed to the work of the Convention and participated in various alliances to such an extent that the accession state representative in the Presidium, Aloiz Peterle, suggested that their work is indistinguishable from that of other Conventionalists.

Poland and Czech Republic

There are interesting parallels between the Czech and the Polish cases. Both countries are experiencing a division between the specialists dealing with the Convention process and the public, which is not particularly interested, informed and drawn into the constitutional debate. In both cases the Conventionalists are very independent as to the formulation of their positions and as to their strategic pursuits in the Convention. In the Czech case it is rather covert, suggesting that the Conventionalists represent their respective institutions, although that is rather questionable; while in Poland the Conventionalists overtly declare that their work in the Convention is representative of their own ideas and ideals. Furthermore, in both countries the Convention and its issues of constitution building are merged with the issues of accession. This is reasonable because after all the Convention will determine the nature of the Union the countries will accede to. In this sense the connection is a positive one. The negative aspect is that sometimes instead of concentrating on issues of constitution building (questions of institutional relationships, legislative procedures, competences etc.) the debate steers in the direction of assessing EU policies, their merits and benefits for the acceding countries, which has little to do with constitutional design. This dynamic is likely to get accentuated with the accession referenda, the campaigns of which will further merge the two debates together.

Despite these similarities, there are marked differences between these two countries. The Polish Conventionalists are more visible political personalities, which naturally puts them and the Convention into the media spotlight. This brings a double benefit: the Convention becomes a media issue thus breeding public debate about the constitutional process; and simultaneously the Conventionalists are placed under greater scrutiny and public oversight, which makes them more responsive and accountable. This is lacking in the Czech case where top politicians (on the ministerial level) do not significantly partake in the Convention debate and process. The national forum is better developed in Poland, where various NGO networks and think-tanks concentrate on EU affairs, thus having the capacity to follow the Convention debate. It was essentially these civil society actors that organized the first debate forum thus pressuring the government to respond with their own, developing a healthy activity race between the government and the non-governmental actors. Although in both countries the public debate is rather limited, in Poland the issue of invocatio Dei (the constitutional reference to God) resounded some broad sentiments of the population, thus increasing the width of interest for the Convention. This topic met with no such response in the Czech Republic due to the strong secular character of the society.

What may explain these differences?

This is a rather difficult question to which we can only provide speculative answers. The greater interest in the Convention on behalf of Polish top politicians, which then seems to lead to the deepening of the whole debate, is related to the various positions of Poland not shared by the Czech Republic. Poland is a large country, rightfully expecting to eventually play a large member state role in the EU. This acts as a motivation for greater interest in the future of Europe. Furthermore, Poland faces potentially greater socio-economic consequences after accession due to some of their large yet weak economic sectors (especially agriculture). The Czech Republic, not having to worry about the economic impact of accession as much, may thus be less receptive to the whole question of the future of Europe. Finally, while the Czech Lands never really aspired to be a great power, Poland had enjoyed a great power history. It has, however, been radically interrupted by the 18th century partitions, which may have sensitized the Polish psyche to be more skeptical of any potential loss of sovereignty. Thus while the Czech Republic views the Convention as something foreign and rather irrelevant, Poland is more observant of this external process, realizing that it may effect it profoundly.

Conventionalists versus broad public

In sum, it seems that the analyzed accession states have passed the test of their first entry into the EU institutional framework. They have learned and adapted to the working environment and produced a considerable amount of quality work. Although certain aspects of their activity, such as position building and civil society input, still seem to be rather sub-optimal, the similarity between the accession states and the current member states is quite marked: Their Conventionalists are effective professionals taking their work seriously, while the broad public is only marginally interested and involved. This points to the fact that the Convention has not yet met the conditions for instigating a broad democratic process, which would truly involve the citizens and thus bridge the admitted democratic deficit of the Union.


(1) from a conversation with Jacque Delors in Le Monde in the beginning of February 2003 / source: article by Marek Ostrowski in Polityka, 10.03.2001