Hampton Court summit ‘unlikely to go down in history ‘

In spite of the choice for the symbolic Hampton Court venue, the UK Presidency has failed to make important progress on any of the EU’s burning issues at the 27 October 2005 Council, commentators agree. 

While commentators of different media from the EU and abroad say almost in unison that this goal has not been achieved, politicians give each other the blame for the summit's failure. 

Commissioner Günter Verheugen  contrasted with EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso's positive comments about the Council by saying on 28 October 2005 that he was "saddened" by the summit since it had "failed to make substantial progress on the pressing problems facing the bloc". Mr. Verheugen said hearing about the meeting "makes me very pensive, even sad", and the meeting went "in the wrong direction". He said the EU now faced a mounting range of problems, including the crisis surrounding the bloc's constitution following its rejection by French and Dutch voters, while its financial future also hangs in the balance because of continuing arguments over the 2007-2013 budget.

At the summit, outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said: "We are standing before a fundamental debate in Europe: Should markets and calls for ever-greater liberalisation be the final measure for political action? [...] It boils down to which direction Europe should take. Is it just supposed to be one big market? [...] People more and more do not find the E.U. ... as a protective shield against expanding globalisation."

On Tony Blair's project of a European globalisation adjustment fund, German Chancellor-designate Angela Merkel said in an interview with Handelsblatt: "I am sceptical. It is unclear who should administer such a fund and according to which criteria the money should be spent."

On the same issue, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen  said on his way into the talks: "I am a bit sceptical about a globalisation adjustment fund, but I am ready to look at this closely if it could promote a more flexible and dynamic labour market." 

The BBC's Mark Mardell blamed the Council's incapability to talk substantially to the enlarged EU and the outcome of the German elections: "The Hampton Court informal summit of October 2005 is unlikely to go down in history, unless it is for Tony Blair's warning to Iran. Certainly it will not be for any agreement on the way the European Union faces up to globalisation. [...] The British prime minister is not the sort of politician who walks into a room without knowing where all the exits are, so why has this summit been such a damp squib? Mr. Blair may be a superb tactician but he is not a fortune teller. He, like me, like every other observer, had thought that by the time of the summit, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder would be out of the picture. He thought all the media attention would be on the new Chancellor Angela Merkel, who would prove a stanch ally against protectionism and opponents of a fully fledged market economy. Now of course Mrs Merkel will be Germany's next leader, but because of the messy election result she isn't yet. And rather lacking chivalry, Mr Schröder insisted on making his last appearance and so spiking Mr Blair's guns."

The Financial Times' Wolfgang Munchau comments: "There used to be a joke that defined a European hell as a combination of British food, German police and French cars. The gag no longer works: all three have come a long way.[...] Instead, a modern version of hell is a European debate on globalisation with 25 heads of state and government around a table, where the British talk about research and development, the French go on about trade and the Germans expostulate over global capitalism. Last week’s informal European Union summit at London’s Hampton Court, where this discussion took place, attempted to answer the question of what impact globalisation would have on the European economy. European leaders concluded that we needed more research and development – and more money in general. In other words, they failed to answer the question.[...] The EU is the wrong institutional platform to deal with globalisation. It has become too large and divided. The appropriate political levels are national governments and the eurozone. "

For the German ARD TV chain, Michael Becker comments: "Blair has held the EU presidency for four months now. When he took it over, immense problems were on the table - the EU constitution crisis and the conflict on the future financing of the EU, to name just the two most important. Four months later it is time to assert that they are still on the table - nothing has happened, absolutely nothing. The discussion about the future of Europe has not even started. Not even the beginning of a way out of the EU constitution crisis is visible. And nil return also on a compromise on the financing of the EU."

Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung says the leaders failed to agree on "central questions of economic policy" such as the budget, liberalisation of the services sector and the current world trade talks. It says that outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder used his farewell speech on European policy to launch an "undisguised attack" on Mr Blair. "While the British prime minister called for new reforms in the fields of energy, research and services, Schröder warned against social inequities," the paper says.

Hungary's Nepszabadsag sums up the event by saying that: "Nothing unexpected happened at the extraordinary EU summit, or more precisely, nothing happened at all. [...] In the global race for development, productivity and efficiency, the EU can only glimpse the back of the USA with binoculars, while its own back is being burnt by the hot breath of China and India. [...] Despite Blair's prestige as the advocate of the third way between the social market model and capitalist globalisation, and despite many rational arguments, his bubble - the idea of an EU globalisation reserve fund - burst in minutes", the paper says.

Denmark's Politiken says the summit "consisted of EU leaders having a non-committal chat - and that was also really the plan. [...] But it is no sign of health that the leaders avoided a fiasco by deciding in advance not to discuss the EU's major problems and instead philosophise about how the problems the nation states are struggling with individually should be solved".

The Italian La Repubblica newspaper comments: "Greatly embarrassed by the lack of success of Britain's EU presidency, [UK Prime Minister Tony Blair] was hoping for a general discussion, without concrete decisions, that would nonetheless give the impression of a new-found harmony among the 25. [...] The aim was not achieved. If the tone of the meeting was calm and relaxed [...] the substance of the positions did not alter by one jot."

Romania's Curentul writes that, while the budget remains the "bone of contention" in the EU, "Tony Blair announced that the delicate topic would not be approached this time either and the debates would be on another topic which some considered to be too abstract: the impact of globalisation on the EU".

For café babel, Daniel Kramb comments: "During Thursday’s talks, much has been made of Hampton Court’s green, well looked-after maze as a metaphor for a troubled EU without a vision. It’s fair to say that the informal summit hasn’t shown the EU a way out of the maze. But it’s also fair to say that it has helped the European leaders to find each other in there, and now they’re no longer stumbling alone, they should seize the moment and take each other by the hand. And then tackle the real issues head on. Because that is the only real way out."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was a recognition of the need to put Europe "back on track and moving in the right direction. [...] The purpose of today was to set a direction [...] to agree areas of work in time for them to affect the priorities for the budget negotiations." He concluded: "What people really believe is that Europe sometimes needs to do more, and sometimes less, but in each case needs to do it better."

In his invitation letter, UK Prime minister Tony Blair set out the agenda of the Hampton Court informal meeting of heads of state and government: "To consider together the strategic issues facing Europe in the years ahead, [...] to uphold the European ideals in which we believe, in the modern world, [...] to demonstrate to our citizens that we are addressing the issues and challenges they really care about.


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