Summit failure re-opens debate over ‘two-speed Europe’

Following the failure of the IGC summit,
politicians are speculating about the possibility of a
two-speed Europe. Several MEPs have called into question the
efficiency of the IGC method.

The IGC meeting was not altogether unsuccessful. EU leaders
agreed on the composition of the Commission, namely to
retain the one Commissioner per country principle, as well
as to increase the minimum number of seats in the European
Parliament to five (see also
EURACTIV, 11
December 2003

). Moreover, they agreed not to re-open discussions on
issues already agreed in past negotiations.

Two issues were left unresolved which
led the EU’s political leaders to establish that the EU
summit could not be concluded during the mandate of the
Italian Presidency. One was the disagreement over whether
to extend qualified majority voting (QMV) in areas such as
social policy and taxation.

The other more major source of
disagreement related to the definition of QMV, with Poland
and Spain not willing to give up the voting weight granted
to them by the Nice Treaty despite a last-minute compromise
proposal by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi to extend
this vote weighting to 2014.

 

Following the failure of the EU summit many expect that new
avenues will be sought by countries wishing for further
integration, increasing the likelihood of a "two-speed
Europe". Germany and France were quick to announce their
intention to forge closer co-operation with like-minded
countries. The prospect of Germany and France taking
leadership of a pioneer group of countries moving forward
on European integration is not welcomed by the UK. An
editorial comment in the Guardian warns Germany and France
against taking a "new integrationist fast lane." "Germany
and France, on whom great responsibility now lies, should
not respond to the crisis over the EU by adopting the same
unilateralist approach that they so rightly condemned in
the actions of the US and Britain over Iraq," argues the
Guardian.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
has repeatedly warned Spain and Poland that they will be
'punished' for their inflexibility in the talks on the EU
Constitution early next year when negotiations on the next
seven-year budgetary period (starting in 2007) will
begin.

The chances of concuding a
Constitutional Treaty prior to the next round of EU
enlargement are considered slight due to other upcoming
political priorities, including elections in Spain and EP
elections in June.

The two parliamentary observers in the
IGC, Elmar Brok (EPP-ED Group) und Klaus Hänsch (PES
Group), together with other MEPs have warned that the
intergovernmental method is outdated and that the EU-25
should look for an alternative method to conclude the
constitutional talks.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
expressed some degree of optimism following the summit
failure: "Those of us who have lived through the long years
that it took to construct the European community know that,
at times, things can grind to a halt. So let's not lose
hope and let's carry on with our efforts"

 

On 18 July 2003, the 105-member Convention on the Future of
Europe handed over a draft Treaty on the EU Constitution to
the Italian Presidency, the result of 16 months of work.
This draft has served as a starting point for the
Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), convened on 4 October.

The IGC met at heads of state and
government level on 12-13 December but this meeting, which
was meant to finalise a Constitution for the Union, failed
to agree over the voting power of Member States in the
Council.

 

The responsibility for concluding negotiations on the EU
Constitution will now be handed to the Irish Presidency.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said he would wait until
March before reconvening the IGC.

 

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