Adamkus’ stair climbing saves EU summit

The Baltic Times
By Arturas Racas
June 27, 2007

STAIR MASTER: The energetic, 81-year-old president repeatedly took to a staircase to act as a go-between for parties in EU treaty talks.

VILNIUS – Lithuania’s president Valdas Adamkus was recently involved in some unscheduled sports activities in Brussels, where leaders of 27 European Union member states had gathered for a key summit.
Late on the evening of June 22, instead of going to sleep, the Lithuanian leader was seen marching the staircase from one floor to the next, making some four or five rounds up and down. Any other 81-year-old might have ended up in the hospital after such vigorous nighttime training, but for Adamkus, who swims in a pool almost every morning, it was easy going.

Moreover, Adamkus’ staircase march won him the respect and thanks of other European leaders as his unusual sports activity helped to clinch a deal that opens the way for European Union reforms.
During the summit Adamkus acted as mediator between German chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish president Lech Kaczynski. The mediation was necessary because Poland had refused to support the new EU treaty, which replaces the failed EU Constitution voted down by French and Dutch voters in 2005. Germany currently holds the EU presidency.

The new treaty could not go ahead without Poland’s signature, since the decision to adopt it had to be unanimous, and Poland threatened to bury the deal if compromise on the new EU voting system could not be found. Poland was against the introduction of the so-called “double majority” voting system, whereby decisions need the support of 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of the EU’s population.
“In the meeting the Polish president said that he could not take even one step back from his position, insisting that his government thinks likewise and that his parliament would not approve any concessions,” Adamkus recounted in an interview with the Lietuvos Rytas daily on June 26.
The atmosphere at the talks, according to the Lithuanian president, was “considerably heated” and some leaders even proposed signing the treaty without Poland.

The talks continued on the night of June 22 when a special meeting between Merkel and the Lithuanian, Polish and French presidents was held. But it failed to bring the desired results as the Polish president left the room after remarks by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“Then I once again discussed with Merkel and Sarkozy what concessions they were ready to offer. After listening to their proposals I hurried to the Polish delegation premises, which were on the other floor. Then my marathon started – I was climbing up and down. I traveled from French and German [rooms] to the Poles and back some four or five times,” Adamkus said.

“I would not hide [anything] – sometimes I had to soften the angles as positions were sometimes being conveyed in words that I was convinced had be softened,” Adamkus recalled.
His efforts were not in vain – on the morning of June 23 European leaders finally approved the draft of the new EU treaty. Poland also got some of what it wanted regarding the new voting system. Under the new treaty it will be gradually phased in from 2014 to 2017 rather than introduced in 2009 as originally planned.
“When everyone was saying goodbye to each other, the German chancellor told me, ‘Thank you for what you did for the sake of Poland,’” Adamkus said in the interview.