Behind the Scenes in Brussels: EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent
Part 4: Monti Has Had Enough
The dining room, 9:30 p.m.
Dinner is served. Berlusconi is there, but only in spirit. He donated the large table in the dining room. White wine from Cyprus, not exactly a premium beverage, is served with the meal. According to the Daily Telegraph, the 20-year-old red wine served at the last summit was worth almost 150 a bottle. In actuality, it cost the European Council administration about 12 a bottle, but this time the officials opted for a truly inexpensive wine, so as not to create the impression that European leaders are being too extravagant in the midst of a crisis.
The rules are not as strict during dinner as they are during the working session, so that debates are more likely to materialize. No one is keeping any minutes, and Anticis are not allowed inside. The European leaders are now discussing the conclusions.
Hollande already has a problem with the introduction, because it doesn't mention the social dimension. He gets it, but in return Merkel wants the word "competitiveness" added to the introduction. The leaders agree, and the first horse trade is out of the way.
Merkel has another objection to the introduction. She doesn't like the use of the term "shock absorption capacity." She has come to Brussels determined to eliminate the term, and she is unwilling to sign a document that includes it. She gets her way.
During the dinner, no Anticis are present and there is considerable noise in the room. Participants are constantly getting up to consult with their European experts outside. Meyer-Landrut and his counterparts are outside the room, waiting for instructions from their bosses, so that they can continue their negotiations.
Merkel voices another objection. The draft states that the Commission will seek ways to factor out public investments from the deficit criteria. Each country is only permitted to increase its national debt by three percent of its annual gross domestic product. Factoring out investments will enable countries to borrow more, thereby watering down the 3-percent rule.
"I have a problem with that," says Merkel. "Angela is right," says Dutch Prime Minister Rutte. Katainen proposes deleting the sentence. Once again, the North has closed ranks against the more debt-ridden South.
But now Monti has had enough. "It wasn't Italy that watered down the Stability Pact," he says.
Monti, 69, nonpartisan, has achieved the feat of turning a nation that felt like former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's bathtub back into a real country. He is Berlusconi's polar opposite. He's proof that the clichéd notion that objectiveness and reliability are predominately Nordic traits often doesn't apply. Under Monti , Italy is in better shape and is being taken seriously again by other countries. His demands are sometimes too forceful for Merkel's taste, although he prefers to characterize his approach as "a very energetic way of working together." Nevertheless, Monti is still preferable to Merkel over Berlusconi, who made disparaging remarks last year about her derrière.
Monti takes a potshot at Germany, noting that it was unable to comply with the limit on new borrowing under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Hollande comes to Monti's defense, noting how important public investment is for growth and job creation.
Cypriot President Christofias interrupts the debate, saying that Cyprus and Greece should be allowed to factor out their military spending, because of the threat from Turkey. This time he has gained the attention of a few more people, who are now shaking their heads in disbelief. Those Cypriots.
The North more or less gets its way. "We modified the sentence until it was acceptable to us," Finnish Prime Minister Katainen says after the meeting.
The office of the Polish delegation, 10:10 p.m.
Suddenly a commotion erupts. Part of a sentence has been omitted from item 13 of the conclusions. The item relates to the rules of procedure for meetings on the fiscal pact. The missing words are: "fully respecting Article 12.3 TSCG." The letters TSCG (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance) refer to the fiscal pact.
What happened to the missing text? Tomasz Husak, 35, the political director for European issues, who holds a doctorate in economics and another one in political science, is very focused. First he and his team comb through the document to see if the text may have been moved somewhere else. But it hasn't been. Together with Ambassador Prawda, they sit down at the computer and write an analysis. Poland is concerned that without this qualifying text, the euro countries will decide on the fiscal pact alone, that is, without Poland.
The advisors write a memo to Tusk, asking him to say: "A year ago, we spent a lot of time establishing the rules for the participation of non-euro countries. The role of the countries outside the euro zone that approved the fiscal pact must be defined in the establishment of the 'rules of procedure,' because they also determine the character of rights and obligations."
State Secretary for European Affairs Serafin takes the memo to Tusk while political director Husak meets with Merkel advisor Meyer-Landrut. Another official informs Van Rompuy about the Polish demand. "We want to be a transparent delegation. It's no use catching the others off-guard," says Husak.
Then the waiting continues. Husak and his coworkers hang around.
In the meantime, the entrée has been served in the dining room: pork loin with pureed pumpkin. The dessert is chocolate with orange peels.
After a long discussion, the word "common" is dropped from item 11, and item 12 also triggers a heated argument. Hollande insists on a "solidarity mechanism," which is just another name for an anti-shock mechanism. That's all very well, says Merkel, "but where is the money supposed to come from?" Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, agrees.
In the end, Hollande convinces the others that item 12b concerns a "social dimension of the EMU" (Economic and Monetary Union), and that item 12d describes a "solidarity mechanism," that is, a watered down version of an anti-shock fund for exceptional cases, to promote "competitiveness" (at Germany's request) and "growth" (at France's request). But Merkel expects the fund to translate into no more than 20 billion in spending, which means it'll have saved 80 billion as compared with what the Southern countries envisioned.
The meeting is interrupted at midnight to celebrate Helle Thorning-Schmidt's birthday. Waiters bring a chocolate cake into the room, and a few of them sing "Happy Birthday." Only about half the participants sing along, mostly off-key.
The office of the Polish delegation, 12:30 a.m.
"It's over now," one person writes in a text message, and a few people start putting their coats on. But as it turns out, it was a false alarm.
The European leaders have indeed discussed everything on the agenda, and Van Rompuy wants to have the final text printed out for all the participants. But then Merkel intervenes, saying that she wants the paragraph that was just amended read out loud one more time. Apparently she wants to make sure that no one has made off with the term "competitiveness." Van Rompuy does as he is told.
He interrupts the meeting for 20 minutes so that the conclusions can be printed out, and then he reads the changes in English, sentence by sentence. Merkel is satisfied. The word "competitiveness" is there, in all the right places.
Serafin and Prawda walk into the office of the Polish delegation at 2 a.m. to announce that the meeting is over. They're pleased, because the text they had been concerned about is back in the conclusions, meaning that Poland now has a say once again. Husak and a colleague give each other high fives.
No one offers any surprises, and no one fights for any bold reforms.
Waiting for the elevator on the way to her press conference, Merkel says: "Do I have to manage the Socialists' schedule now? After all, I'm not a Social Democrat. I'm a Christian Democrat." She was forced to deal with the colliding dates for the May summit and the SPD anniversary throughout the entire evening.
Hollande steps into the French briefing room for his press conference at 1:59 a.m. He had his aides apply some makeup in the delegation room, but he still looks pale and isn't smiling as much as usual. He steps onto the stage and stands at the lectern, which his staff has brought from Paris in a minibus. He says: "Okay, I congratulate you once again on your patience, your courage and your endurance, which -- combined with ours -- has made it possible to achieve significant progress for Europe in the last six months." Hollande says that he is satisfied with the summit and mentions the solidarity mechanism.
Merkel enters the German press briefing room at 2:05 a.m. She says: "Good evening, or good morning, as you wish." Then she stands behind the lectern at the front of the stage. She looks pale, her eyes are narrow and her hairdo is no longer as voluminous as usual. These nights are strenuous. But she is satisfied nonetheless. Her most important message for the German public, she says, is that changes "cannot be made at the taxpayers' expense." All she has to say about the EU's enthusiasm for reform is this: "We didn't talk about treaty amendments."
The much-touted summit ends with the conclusion that the individual countries are to negotiate contracts with the EU concerning reforms. It could also produce a tiny anti-shock fund, and there is a statement on fighting youth unemployment. Of course, competitiveness is an important goal. Everything remains vague. Somehow the task of rebuilding the EU is supposed to continue next summer, just when Germany is in the midst of its election campaign.
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