French President Sarkozy to make first visit to Poland

Nicolas Sarkozy will try to persuade Poland to drop its threats to veto a new European Union treaty meant to replace the stalled draft constitution when he makes his first visit to Warsaw as French president on Thursday.

Sarkozy is likely to be more warmly welcomed than his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who offended many in Poland with his criticism of Eastern European countries' support for the U.S. position on Iraq.

Poland is a strong U.S. ally, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it welcomes Sarkozy's plans to revive the trans-Atlantic ties that chilled with Chirac's opposition to the Iraq war.

"I hope that Sarkozy will know to treat the ties between the EU and the United States with interest and good will," Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was quoted as saying in an article published by the French daily Le Monde on Tuesday. "Good ties between Brussels and Washington are what he can make better for the world."

But the fresh start does not mean that everything will be easy.

Sarkozy makes his one day stop in Warsaw with the hope of persuading the premier and his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, to take a more constructive role in the push for a new EU treaty to replace the stalled draft constitution.

"Poland cannot block the European Union," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in an interview with the leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on the eve of his visit. "If every one of us shows total intransigence ... the question arises: what are we doing together?"

Warsaw's threatened veto, an attempt to retain more votes in relation to larger EU members, is seen as a main obstacle to reaching an agreement at an EU summit next week. The country of 38 million is calling for a voting system that would strengthen the voting power of medium-sized countries.

"One cannot be a big country in Europe and at the same time say, 'I have fewer responsibilities, I can block' ... being a big country does not just bring advantages," Sarkozy said.

Eugeniusz Smolar, president of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations, said that despite Polish objections to Chirac's comments, ties between the two countries remained strong, economically and politically.

He said Sarkozy's election promises "a new opportunity" for closer cooperation rather than a totally new era.

The area with the most potential for change is Europe's ties with the United States, he and other experts say.