Devilish Details

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU’s summit in Greece ended with more conclusions than most such events do. The larger problem will be seeing them through.

When the leaders of 25 European nations left the
Porto Carras Aegean resort on 22 June to tour the famous Mount
Athos, they had every reason to be satisfied with their summit.

They had accepted the draft constitution
prepared by the Convention as a basis for further discussion among
governments. They had launched the preparation of the first-ever EU
security strategy, based on a sharp but balanced document drafted
by the EU High Representative Javier Solana. They had finished a
spectacular summit with the leaders of five Western Balkan
countries, providing them with a reassuring but at the same time
very demanding message.

But just under the surface of the happy, united
facade bubbles an imbroglio of contradictory national interests,
conflicting philosophical approaches, and emerging alliances
preparing for future conflicts. It is clear that despite the
surprisingly vast consensus, the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)
at which the new constitutional treaty will be negotiated in
October will not be a rubber-stamping exercise but an occasion for
a fierce fight.

Three more or less precise groupings can be
distinguished. First are those, who like France, Germany, and
Italy–whose influence should be enhanced by its presidency role
over the next six months–generally like the paper presented by
Giscard d’Estaing (the Convention president) and would like
to see the IGC wrapped up quickly on this basis. They could be
joined by Britain, which would be reasonably happy about that
outcome as long as it gets the assurance that the qualified
majority voting will not be further enlarged to cover the areas of
fiscal, foreign, or defense policy. Given the political influence
of these heavyweights–perhaps supported by Belgium and even
Luxembourg–any opposition to their views augers for a real uphill
struggle.

But at least some of the numerous group of the
so-called like-minded countries–which include the majority of the
acceding new members and smaller member states like Austria,
Portugal, Ireland, and possibly Sweden–are ready for action. They
dislike several institutional arrangements in the draft
Constitution, including the composition of the Commission, proposed
criteria of rotation in the specialized formats of the Council
(including the General affairs council and the newly established
Legislative council) and, above all, the “double
majority” voting which combines the simple majority of member
states with 60 percent population threshold. That would enable two
or three big countries in the future enlarged EU (for example
Germany, France, and any other medium-size state) to block any
decision.

Spain and Poland are caught somewhere in
between. They tend to behave like big countries, but due to this
system of voting, they lose the important relative weight they
acquired in Nice, so they tend to prefer the preservation of the
Nice treaty system of repartition of votes in the Council. For the
time being they behave like allies of the small countries, though
they do not share their doubts about the Council rotation or the
Commission. Both of them–Poland more noisily–also fight for the
famous invocatio Dei. mention of God or Christianity in the
Preamble of the EU Constitution.

The IGC will show how much the unity of the
like-minded is worth. The leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary,
and Austria were in a combative mood in Porto Carras, but some
others–Slovakia, the Baltics, even Portugal–were much more
conciliatory. Overall, it’s hard to see how a looming
behind-the-scenes process of tradeoffs and haggling in the grand
old tradition of the EU–which the Convention was invented to
prevent–can be avoided. And it’s going to be all the more
difficult for the contenders that they also acknowledge the real
progress achieved by this unprecedented body in many respects and
would not want to be accused of destroying it.

On the proposal of an EU security doctrine,
Solana outlined a possible framework for future understanding
between the EU and the United States after a spring that was
fraught with trans-Atlantic peril. By stressing the need for a
collective EU response to crises worldwide and multilateral global
approach–combined with an unequivocal emphasis on a strong
trans-Atlantic link as the basis of world’s stability–he
outlined a policy line that should nurture the idea on both sides
of the Atlantic. The EU has thus prepared a good basis for a
December decision on its strategy–and Washington should think
twice before succumbing to any reactionary rejection.

As if to show that the EU means business and
takes care first of all of its own backyard, its leaders gave a
warm welcome to counterparts from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Albania. The Thessaloniki
declaration and action plan don’t leave a shade of doubt
about the European vocation of these countries–the Union already
considers them to be future members, but says at the same time that
future membership could be quite distant if the wish to join is not
supported by considerable reform efforts. The fight against
organized crime, cooperation with the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the capacity to have
neighborly relations with the surrounding countries, and the return
of refugees are going to be the main criteria by which to judge the
states of the war-torn Western Balkans in the years to come. Their
leaders evinced disappointment–especially by the meager envelope
of 200 million supplementary euros added for the period 2004 to
2006 to the already engaged 4.6 billion pledged for 2000 through
2006.

The immigration and asylum part also produced
some good intentions, but in general showed that in the area of
justice and home affairs the member states have still trouble
putting their competencies into the common basket. From Porto
Carras thus stemmed several good intentions and general
understandings, but the devil is in the detail. The coming months
will show to what extent the facade of unity will be able to
withstand the political reality.


Visit

Transitions Onlineto read more analyses about Eastern
Europe.  

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe