Behind the Scenes in Brussels EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent
Part 5: Europe Has Gotten Stuck in the Mud
Friday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m., the round table
The European leaders are meeting once again. Today's topics are Syria and defense policy. There will be no further changes to the conclusions on the monetary union.
British Prime Minister Cameron makes some interesting remarks. He says that there are too many redundant regulations in the EU, and he wants to see some of them suspended. His comments are also incorporated into the closing document.
Juncker says that he reviewed his press kit that morning, specifically the reports on reaching an agreement on the banking union. In one newspaper, he says, he read that Germany had prevailed, while other papers claimed that France was the winner. Speaking French, for a change, he says: "I've pretty much had enough. Eighty percent are describing the national positions. We can't go on this way."
After the summit, Juncker gets into the back seat of his BMW 7 Series, and his diplomatic advisor, Yuriko Backes, sits down next to him. Two police cars escort the limousine through Brussels rush-hour traffic. It's raining heavily, and the windshield wipers can hardly keep up. "Too bad it isn't snowing," says Juncker. After another year of countless crisis meetings, he's looking forward to a few quiet days around Christmas.
The landscape becomes hillier as the car heads southeast toward the Ardennes. The Belgian police escort takes its leave with a short burst of sirens, and then the limousine, with its Luxembourg license plate, continues along the highway alone. "The biggest contribution to the success of the summit," says Juncker, "wasn't made by the heads of state and government, but by the finance ministers ahead of the meeting." If they hadn't reached an agreement on the banking union and resolved the Greek problem, he says, "this summit would have gone down in history as a very unsuccessful meeting."
What happened to the enthusiasm for reform? Why is Merkel suddenly stepping on the brakes? Juncker lights a cigarette and takes a long drag. Largely, he says, it has to do with the growing influence of the national parliaments. "Since the Greek crisis, the members of parliament are no longer kowtowing to the heads of government. They want to know what taxpayers are being asked to pay for." He has nothing against the parliaments getting involved, says Juncker, but points out that it will become difficult when they start making preliminary determinations. "If all the parliaments do this, we'll hardly have any room to negotiate at the summits."
There is also a growing reluctance in European capitals to transfer additional rights of sovereignty to EU institutions, says Juncker. In many places, he adds, there has been a decline in awareness that the EU needs to be reformed. "Now that we are able to achieve short-term successes on the issue of the banking union and Greece, contrary to expectations, long-term reform is losing momentum."
The advisor's phone rings, indicating that she has received an agency report. Backes reads the message to her boss: "Juncker not satisfied with EU summit outcome." Juncker nods. He is indeed satisfied, because his message has been heard.
Besides, it's almost Christmas. "I like to sing," says Jean-Claude Juncker, as he breaks into the first few lines of a German Christmas carol, "Alle Jahre wieder" (Every Year Again).
A Growing Emphasis on National Interests
His BMW is speeding through a Europe that has gotten stuck in the mud. The summit has made that abundantly clear. The main problem is a growing emphasis on national interests. Almost all of the Europeans are focusing exclusively on their own interests, from the Poles to the Germans to the French. Some are determined not to lose their connection to Europe, others want to pay as little as possible and there are those who want to get as much as possible. Together, they represent three Europes: the East, the North and the South. The bridges among the three are narrow and weak.
The reports on the summit provide a sense of the torpor and ritualization. The South makes proposals, as it has always done, and the North dismisses those proposals, as it has always done -- and vice-versa. No one offers any surprises, no one goes the extra mile, and no one fights for bold reforms.
They all go through the routine motions of unwinding their national programs, as if there were no euro crisis bellowing at their doors. There is a huge difference between the public rhetoric and the behavior during negotiations, especially with the German chancellor. In public, she stresses common interests, but none of it remains once she is behind closed doors. She seems pedantic and mercantile. This doesn't mean that the Germans should always be the ones footing the bill. But a policy of trying to avoid payment at all costs isn't enough.
The summit also shows that Chancellor Merkel isn't leading, even though she ought to be. All of the participants look to her, make reference to her and wait for her. But Merkel does not make use of this position. She doesn't speak as harshly as her Swedish counterpart Reinfeldt or her Dutch colleague Rutte, and yet she is one of them. She is not someone who promotes the common cause, even though she ought to be, as the chancellor of Europe's largest and richest country.
Instead, she both accepts and is responsible for the fact that Europe currently has no vision. The December summit was historic, in the sense that it stifled Barroso's and Van Rompuy's attempt to build a political union. Both men returned home without having achieved their goals.
Monday, Dec. 17. Berlin, the headquarters of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, a meeting of the CDU steering committee, 10 a.m.
Merkel reports on the summit in Brussels. She is under the impression, she says, that Hollande is trying to obstruct everything she proposes between now and the German parliamentary election. Hollande currently has more allies than she does, she says, which is why cooperation isn't quite working yet. But she's doing her best to gather more allies for Germany, she adds.
It sounds a little like the days when there were still wars in Europe.
REPORTED BY DIRK KURBJUWEIT, CHRISTOPH PAULY, JAN PUHL, MATHIEU VON ROHR, CHRISTOPH SCHEUERMANN AND CHRISTOPH SCHULT
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan