EU Hammers Out a Deal The Fresh Impetus that Europe Desperately Needs
All of Europe's internal divisions were revealed at the Brussels summit. Once again, selfish national interests were promoted with tricks, threats and embarrassing haggling. Nevertheless, the result is a step forward for the European Union.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy gives a thumbs up as he leaves the European Summit in Brussels.
Even Poland's President Lech Kaczynski, who had continuously threatened to torpedo the European Union summit, saw himself as a winner too. The solution that had been found for the EU Council voting system was "more favorable for Poland than the square root" -- a system the ruling Kaczynski twins had said they were willing to die for prior to the Brussels summit.
The truth is that a new treaty has been launched, one that will implement everything that was left over from the ambitious constitutional project. An intergovernmental conference can now begin to give a clear legal form to the political agreements. At the end of the year, once all 27 member states have given it the green light, the reform act can be presented to the parliaments or, in some cases such as Ireland, to the people in referenda. The essential elements will come into effect in 2009 and, it is hoped, give fresh impetus to an EU that has been paralyzed for years. It is an impetus which is desperately needed.
Indeed, this summit in Brussels revealed that need. The 27-member EU club is full of internal conflicts. A large group of members would like to work even more closely together, but there is a handful of countries which want to prevent that. And to ensure that the handful doesnt regularly block everything, they have to be regularly compensated.
That is exactly what happened at this meeting of the EU leaders. In reality, this summit was less about finding political compromises with partners who had different opinions and concerns. Rather it was yet another brazen attempt on the part of some to use tricks and threats to achieve the maximum for their selfish national interests. Poland and Great Britain were the main offenders, but others werent far behind.
There were some dramatic scenes. Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, and others spent hours speaking with the stubborn Polish president Lech Kaczynski, luring him with offers, some in hard cash. And as the little Pole slowly weakened, his cooler brother Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski back in Warsaw said a clear "no" via television.
Merkel counterattacked with the threat to open the intergovernmental conference without Poland's agreement. Sarkozy and Blair then advised her that it would be better to beef up the last offer to the Poles. That's how things are done in this Europe.
The British rejected everything that could affect their national sovereignty or that could make the island nation more continental. They dont want the euro, or traveling on the right-hand side of the road, and, above all, not too much cooperation. The message was: We are different from you, and that is how things should stay. The main thing is that the City in London continues to make money out of Europe.
The Warsaw rulers brazenly raised the nationalistic ghosts from the dead, without really thinking through the consequences. They reproached the Germans for their responsibility for the war, the Nazi terror and the many war dead, when it came to the distribution of voting rights and therefore of power in the future Europe. The message: We dont trust you.
Once again the EU has shown its citizens and the rest of the world, that it cannot operate with these structures. A few members can currently block the rest of the union, whether or not they have good reasons for doing so. The message: That is not on.
The British and Poles, Czechs and Dutch have worked in concert to have large areas of the "Reform Treaty" erased, which will now be the perforated version of what was once known with European exuberance as the "Constitutional Treaty."
But despite all these gaps, the trimmed down treaty could still give a new boost to an EU that has been caught in a state of paralysis for years. It allows for closer cooperation between EU states in areas such as justice and domestic policies, which has long been blocked by a minority of states. And from 2009 it will be possible to solve many issues that were buried with vetoes up until now.
It will possible to close gaps in the common market, and to adopt joint environmental standards. And even in areas, in which unanimity is still required, or in cases where there is not a sufficient majority in favor, the treaty offers a way out for those who want closer ties: In the course of a so-called "strengthened cooperation" a group of countries can agree on joint political projects without having to wait for the procrastinators and the critics. They can join in sooner or later, but they can't prevent it any more.
The European foreign policy chief will be appointed in 2009, though he will be called the "High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy" rather than minister out of respect for Britain. The creation of the post will give the EU a single voice in the world for the first time. That will also have reverberations inside the bloc.
Only the citizens will not be treated any better than before. Europe, or at least the political and bureaucratic institutions, which think of themselves as Europe, doesnt trust its own population. So that the French and the Dutch dont notice that the new text has much of the same substance as the old constitution, which they have already killed off in referenda, the authors of the new treaty have hidden and encoded anything controversial to such an extent that no one can read the treaty or even understand it. People just have to blindly believe that, in the words of Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, it is all for the "good of the citizens."