Saturday, December 20, 2003
Opera yes, West Ham never

"Football and women" was Berlusconi's suggestion for fostering cooperation amongst the vexed negotiations on the Constitution. Sounds good, but it proved too populist for the political elite.

John Palmer of The European Policy Centre argues, in a paper on the failure of the negotiations, that variable geometry will prove the motor for integration within Europe.

These will almost certainly involve some kind of “two speed Europe” with one or more core group of countries moving ahead to integrate among themselves further and faster than all the 25 may be ready to accept.

Neither Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany nor President Jacques Chirac of France made any attempt to disguise their ambition to forge ahead with plans for an EU “hard core.” Indeed President Chirac indicated that, following the successful launch of the defence initiative, the next area where the vanguard countries would begin to integrate their national policies and institutions was justice, police and internal security. There are fewer signs of a consensus about a hard core moving ahead with economic integration.

In these negotiations, Britain was close to conceding on one of the redlines for the higher European goal.

To be fair, the Italian Presidency’s job was made none the easier by the insistence of a number of other countries to hold dogmatically to their “red lines” on negotiating issues. This led to a reportedly abrasive exchange at one point between Mr Blair and both President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder. They insisted that if there was to be a compromise agreement, then Britain as well as others would have to abandon at least one of its red lines involving maintenance of the British veto over tax, social security, foreign and defence policy. There is no doubt that British diplomats feared they would come under irresistible pressure to give some ground on at least one of these policy “no go areas” once the stand off with Poland and Spain was resolved.

More surprising is that the weakening moves towards integration have not abated in the areas of defence or foreign policy, with the new co-operative structures indicating a European presence.

Ironically foreign, security and defence policy (CFSP/ESPD) may prove to be one important counter trend to the wider ebbing of the integrationist tide. The Brussels summit enthusiastically endorsed the revised European Union security strategy put forward by the High Representative, Javier Solana. At the same time the Union has nailed its colours to the mast of “effective global multilateralism” with a reformed United Nations at it heart. The two policies mark out clear elements of divergence from the policies of the current United States administration – even while acknowledging the primary importance of the trans-Atlantic partnership.

With the agreement on an EU arms agency along with the French/German/British led drive for a European Union defence force which will include an embryonic military planning staff attached to the Council of Ministers as well as to NATO military headquarters, CFSP and ESPD are providing an important impetus to a clearer collective definition of the European Union’s global role. The more this develops the more powerful the arguments will become not only for the creation of a European Union Foreign Minister (now on hold) but also for some move towards qualified majority voting on foreign policy (if not on defence matters).

Palmer concludes that the relationship between the United States and Europe will be subjected to greater divergence over the medium to long term due to the institutionalisation agreed to above.

Lastly, on the civil liberties front, the EU remains wedded to biometrics and a common border policy.

However, the summit separately called on Justice Ministers to finish their examination of the proposed European Agency for the management of cooperation at the Union’s external borders so that it can become operational by January 2005. The European Council also wants to accelerate the introduction of “biometric identifiers” in passports and the development of a Visa Information System. It also noted the “persisting political obstacles” in the way of directives on a common asylum policy.

The truce on the Constitution may have been constructed in time for Christmas but it is not the only front.

(16.37, 20th December 2003)


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