Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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Where does the EU go from here?

What's the fallout from the collapse of the EU constitutional negotiations this weekend? Depends on who you ask. In terms of the constitution itself, the Economist thinks this can only be a good thing:

[T]he document was a disaster. Constitutions are supposed to give citizens a clear and concise explanation of the powers—and the limits to the powers—of the principal organs of government. However, the long, rambling draft produced by the 105-member European Convention was so vague on how it assigned powers to various institutions that at times even convention members themselves could not explain it. And the EU’s principle of “subsidiarity” (devolving decision-making so it is as close to the people as possible), far from being strengthened, was undermined by making it subordinate to the Union’s objectives, which included various types of “cohesion” (read: Brussels-led harmonisation).

As the convention members tried to satisfy everyone, their draft constitution ended up riddled with botched compromises, anomalies and absurdities.

Andrew Moravcsik -- who knows a thing or two about the European Union -- also believes that the collapse in negotiations was a good thing -- but for a different set of reasons:

European leaders agree on 95 percent of the new constitution; they have bolstered their bargaining clout on the remaining 5 percent by issuing inflammatory and uncompromising public statements....

The wager was that by debating a new constitution, public support for the Union would grow. It hasn't. Constant Eurotinkering has made voters cranky and suspicious. For the first time in the Union's half-century history, polls show that fewer than half now view it favorably.

The lesson for Brussels here is clear: Don't rush! Think long term! Remember that early-morning deals come back to bite those who make them--and undermine the European ideal. Remember, too, that Europe's proposed constitution is a conservative document meant to consolidate and modestly extend EU achievement since 1990--and fix them for decades in a new Europe of nearly 500 million people.

The "collapse" and "crisis" in Brussels thus has a silver lining. So what if Europe's grandees went home empty-handed? Another early-morning compromise in Brussels last week might well have triggered yet another vicious circle of rambunctious referendums, continuous crises, contentious negotiations and deeper public disillusionment.... A little patience is in order. Europe kicked the can down the road? Good. That's the smart play.

Unfortunately, some of the leading EU members have shorter tempers than Moravcsik would have liked, according to the Financial Times:

Six of Europe's biggest paymasters on Monday called for a freeze in the European Union budget until 2013, in a move that could cut aid payments to poorer countries including Spain and Poland.

The leaders of Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, all net contributors to the EU, said in a joint letter that the union's budget should be subject to the same "painful consolidation" as national budgets.

The warning, following immediately after Spain and Poland blocked the deal on a new EU constitution, steps up the pressure on Madrid and Warsaw to fall into line.

Germany, which contributes 22 per cent of the EU's €100bn budget, has warned of "certain parallels" between the budget negotiations and finalising a deal on the constitution.

However, the FT also reports that these kind of tactics will have some blowback in Paris:

President Jacques Chirac was given rough treatment on Monday in the French media and by opposition parties for his part in the failure to agree an overhaul of the European Union's institutions at the EU summit in Brussels....

François Hollande, leader of the socialists, the main opposition party, yesterday attacked the way Mr Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, had tried to impose their views on their colleagues by presenting a strong Franco-German front. "They sought to show that it was sufficient to get two to agree for 25 [leaders of EU countries] to do the same," Mr Hollande said.

Among Monday's newspapers, Le Monde headlined the lonely position of France and Germany, saying: "Isolated, the Franco-German couple have suffered a second defeat in less than a year." The first was the failure to consult in mounting a common front against the US-led invasion of Iraq.

An editorial in the pro-European Libération highlighted the inability of the "Franco-German motor" to take any initiative within the EU. Even the pro-government Le Figaro highlighted the failure of the much vaunted Franco-German alliance to orchestrate a deal.

Such comments suggest fresh moves by Mr Chirac to use the Franco-German axis as a political weapon within the EU will be subjected to much greater scrutiny at home. If this proves the case, it could have significant implications for plans being floated by Mr Chirac and Mr Schröder to press ahead with a core group of EU "pioneer" states ready for deeper integration.


posted by Dan on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM


It looks like a great example of too much, too fast. I don't know if the failure of the constitution is a good thing in the long-run for the EU or a bad thing but it seems the EU has a long way to go to demostrate they can make their current institutions work. Maybe a new Constitution would have helped, but from what I have read that was far from certain.

It will be very interesting to see how expansion affects the EU. I think the process could have some bumps that might be very unsettling to some members. I really hope they are able to make it work, because the EU is really a grand experiment to see if we can move beyond the way relations between nations have been shaped for the last several centuries. What they are trying is incredibly difficult and it is remarkable to me that so much has been accomplished without a symbolic leader of the movement.

In this time of global uncertainty it is nice to know that internally Europe is relatively stable. It would be a complete shame if that were to change.

posted by: Rich on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

I predicted the EU would fail, but even as cynical as I am, I never thought it would collapse this fast and this thoroughly.

I hope people saved their passports and currency. They'll be needing them again soon.

posted by: erp on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

What else can you expect from such young countries? Most European nations are not fortunate to have a established constitution and stable governmental history. They are the new kids on the block while we are the elder statesmen. Aren’t Great Britain and Switzerland about the only exceptions? The Europeans therefore have a lot of catching up to do. Look how long it took to unify the fifty distinctive political entities comprising the United States. Alaska and Hawaii became states only in 1959.

This is one of the central reasons why I find it so laughable when some Americans foolishly contend that we must essentially hand the role of leadership over to the French. Why place adolescents in roles requiring experience and mature wisdom? Have the French even outgrown their diapers.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

Insert ubiquitous France bashing comments he....oops, too late.

posted by: Waffle on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

Isn't it strange that Germany uses its population size and its contribution to the Union Budget in typical Capitalist style, to get more voting power in a Socialist Union?

posted by: Barry on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

“Insert ubiquitous France bashing comments he....oops, too late.”

French “bashing” is currently a regrettable moral and pragmatic necessity. The leaders of this immature and childish country often make policy decisions not based on reasonableness and logic---but merely as a way of giving the middle finger to the United States. Thus, the French must pay a severe price before we forgive them. Their faces have to rubbed into the mud. Reconciliation should not come cheaply.

Americans are easily guilt tripped and inclined to think that there might be some validity whenever another country allegedly disagrees with us. But let’s get something straight: Jacques Chirac did not really find fault with our arguments over Iraq. Rational thought had little to do with his decision making; Chirac should indeed not be given credit for good intentions.

Please also note that Howard Dean only a few years ago agreed with me! He now feels an incumbent need to be embraced by the liberal establishment. Sadly, Dean is obviously more than willing to put his wet finger into the air and see which way the wind blows.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

You assessment that "these kind of tactics will have some blowback in Paris" does not reflect the prevailing mood in France.

1- The leader of the opposition criticizes the President. Le Monde which has always disliked does the same, as usual.

2- Much of the press coverage was no that negative saying that no deal was better than a bad deal (the current difficulties regarding voting rights originating in a bad deal accepted by France and Germany during the Nice Summit).

3- The French people like nothing better that criticizing their country and their rulers: you really need a confrontation with some repulsive foreign leaders (like say Rumsfeld, GW Bush) to create a temporary national quasi-unanimity.

4- The fact that Germany with twice the population of Poland demands more voting rights in the EU seems quite legitimate in my opinion.
The double majority concept in the draft constitution (majority of states combined with proportionnal representation of population) is very similar to the representation of states in Congress.

5- I don't remember a time when the European Union was not said to be in crisis.

posted by: amusedfrog on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

I have increased my short position on the EU.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 12.16.03 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

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