Friday, June 22, 2007

EU: voting rights & Polish population

Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski - on picture with his brother Lech, the president, both obeying Fermi-Dirac statistics - argued that the number of Poles would be 66 million instead of 38 million today if Germany didn't initiate the Second World War. He suggested that this fact should perhaps be taken into account when the new voting rights of the EU are being calculated. Let me say a few things about it:
  • Strictly speaking, his calculation may be rather accurate and he can hardly be blamed for not saying the truth.

  • It is dangerous to revive the past. Many extremely bad things have happened in the past and we shouldn't repeat them. The cleanest way not to repeat them is to avoid similar kinds of disputes and to accept the status quo as legitimate initial conditions for the future, ignoring the complicated history that have led to the status quo in the past, a history that is open to many potentially contradictory interpretations. Attempts to compensate for events that occurred 60 years ago or more may be seen as attempts to revenge and they won't lead to good outcomes.
  • Polish war casualties of 5 million have been huge, if counted relatively to the net population: 18.5 percent. Such high casualties often lead to a different kind of thinking. I feel that e.g. 350,000 Czechoslovak casualties which were about 2% don't give the Czechs and Slovaks the credentials to speak about the same situation. Because history is important, we shouldn't forget that Poland was one of the main victims of the war. I think we should always allow the Poles to express somewhat more emotional reactions than what we expect from others. This special treatment of the Poles should only exist at the moral level and shouldn't be incorporated into new laws.
  • Dead people and people who were never born - like the children of the dead people who didn't have children when they died ;-) - can't have voting rights. No one knows how they would actually vote. Maybe, if Germans hadn't killed them, they would be so grateful that they would vote for whatever the German chancellor wants. Sorry for a stupid joke. ;-)
  • The proposed modifications of the voting rights represent a significant change of the mechanisms how the European Union works. It is somewhat conceivable that various referenda should be repeated because the previous ones decided about the membership in a different union, under different rules and circumstances.
  • Voting strength that is proportional to the population can clearly be used collectively by big nations to negatively influence smaller nations and it shouldn't be surprising if some smaller nations dislike such a change.
  • If the voting rules include a proportional system together with a system where every member country has the same power, it will diminish the influence of the medium nations. In the votes where every country matters, tiny nations such as Luxembourg can easily and naturally join the powers.
In the list above, you will find several good reasons why Poland could veto the agreement about the new voting system. I would personally have a good understanding for such a decision: they certainly have a right to do it. They should also realize that such a veto would make many other people upset. They shouldn't be surprised that Merkel tries to find an agreement without Poland which is effectively an attempt to eliminate Poland from the EU under certain circumstances (if its position continues to be inconvenient). So far, the German plan to screw Poland was rejected by Britain & France: similarities with 1939 are purely coincidental.

Nevertheless, Poland may want to think whether Putin will be more fair than the EU once Poland outside the EU appears in his sphere of influence again. I certainly don't think that exit from the EU would be a disaster for Poland but my guess is that the net result would still be negative for that country.

You can also see that the Poles will probably be unhappy when the Czechs betray them even though they still believe in unity. Unfortunately, Czechs can't use similar population and related arguments for similar goals and it is more likely that Czechia will quite the extreme Polish game.

What is the optimal voting system in a diverse union?

Of course, if the European Union were uniform and if it were in equilibrium where all parts constantly interact with each other, the proportional voting system would be the most natural and fair system you can imagine. However, the union is not uniform and its parts are largely decoupled, as far as many types of interactions go. There exists a huge percentage of questions where the nationality is the most important factor that decides about the opinions of the citizens about such questions. This fact makes the situation and optimal voting rules subtle. I think it is clear that if there are questions in which the European Union is in full consensus, the policies may be adopted. Any other decision where consensus doesn't exist should be made with extreme caution.

Moreover, there should exist effective mechanisms that allow various kinds of decisions to be moved from Brussels back to the national capitals or regions, not just in the opposite direction. Why? Because there are many cases in which it is better to decide about various things locally. The situation in which everything is decided in Brussels is simply not the optimum even though some people implicitly assume that it is. The policies must work in such a way that the optimum may be found regardless of the relative location of the status quo and the optimum.

And that's the memo.

A possible distribution of votes in the new EU: 40% Germany, 60% Czechia - fair enough ;-)

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