Poland threatens EU treaty delay at last minute

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LISBON, Oct 18 (Reuters) Poland's president threatened today to delay talks on a new European Union treaty at a summit where EU leaders hope to finalise the charter to reform the bloc's institutions.

Agreement would end a crisis of confidence sparked by Dutch and French voters' rejection of a European constitution in 2005 and open the way for a toned-down treaty that includes a foreign policy chief with more clout and a long-term EU president.

The treaty also provides for a more democratic decision-making system and more say for the European and national parliaments but avoids mention of an EU anthem or flag.

Poland, which fought against changes to the voting system at a treaty summit in June, has recently voiced greater optimism that it would win a compromise on its demands.

''We don't want anything more than is our right,'' President Lech Kaczynski told Polish radio before leaving for the summit.

Asked what would happen at the talks if Polish demands were not met, Kaczynski replied: ''We will have to delay the discussion''.

Poland holds an early parliamentary election on Sunday. The president's brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is fighting for re-election and flagging in opinion polls.

Although Poles are generally pro-European, the Kaczynskis' conservative core electorate tend to be more suspicious of the EU and happier to see the twins taking a strong nationalist stand.

Warsaw's main demand is to include in the treaty, or as a protocol, a provision allowing groups of countries that are just short of a blocking minority to delay a decision for a ''reasonable time'' -- in practice, several months.

''NAVEL-GAZING'' Poland's EU partners shrugged off Kaczynski's talk of a possible delay, seen as normal pre-summit tactics.

''There will be an agreement in Lisbon because there has to be an agreement,'' Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told Germany's Bayerischer Rundfunk radio. ''There has to be an end to the navel-gazing and self-pity.'' The EU has spent the last decade debating how to reform its sclerotic institutions to cope with its near doubling in size from 15 to 27 members.

Asked about Poland's key demand to have the so-called Ioannina compromise on voting anchored in the new EU rulebook, Juncker said: ''I wouldn't be pleased if this formulation was included in the treaty.'' Before the Polish president's comments, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had voiced optimism that there would be success at the two-day summit. Hopes are high in his home country for a 'Treaty of Lisbon'.

''Everybody is coming to Lisbon in the spirit of commitment to a solution. The new treaty should finalise the debate on changing institutions,'' he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is coming to his first EU summit under fierce domestic pressure to hold a referendum on the treaty, echoed Barroso's views in a letter to Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country is hosting the meeting under its EU presidency.

But other challenges also remain, including an insistence by Italy on maintaining parity with France and Britain in European Parliament members, despite a reallocation plan which would give it fewer seats based on population size. Barroso said there were several possible solutions to Italy's demand.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has made clear he would not block political agreement on the reform treaty but wanted Italy's concerns to be taken into account.

REUTERS SKB KP1600

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