For the EU, the Future Is Now

Returning to Die Zeit – truly an excellent commentary newspaper, and very generous with what it’s willing to post on-line! – the article in its latest (on-line) issue (Der letzte Gipfel – “The Last Summit”) shows that the future which the EU has feared for so long has now arrived – whether it’s ready for it or not.

I broached this subject before, recently, in the entry discussing, among other things, Jacques Delors’ hopes and fears for the draft EU Constitution (which is here), from his recent interview in L’Express. He expressed his concern that European Union enlargement had sped on far ahead of the institutional reforms (the “deepening”) he has always felt would be needed to keep the EU functioning; you might recall that he advised “Tidy[ing] up the house before welcoming new occupants.”

From Joachim Fritz-Vannahme’s article in the latest Die Zeit, we can conclude that the house is by no means tidy, and it’s getting very late. (Yes, we encounter Herr Fritz-Vannahme again here, for the second day in a row.) He has one word for the EU Thessaloniki summit: entsetzlich (“horrible”). And that’s not just his opinion, but the the gist of what he hears from experienced EU insiders.

First of all, it wasn’t really the “Thessaloniki” summit, because it did not take place in that Greek city at all. The Greek authorities realized that the congress-center in Thessaloniki where the summit was originally to have taken place was right next to the local university, and that was obviously too great a security risk. Obviously: the usual band of anti-globalization demonstrators and anarchists clashed with the police on the streets of Thessaloniki during the summit, even though it ended up happening about 120 km elsewhere, on the middle “finger” (hmm – a gesture to the anarchists?) of three “finger peninsulas” into the Aegean Sea, which collectively are known as Chalkidiki (German spelling). That middle peninsula, itself called Sithonia, was duly closed off to the public by a force of 15,000 policemen. To get there, national delegations had to be flown by helicopter from Thessaloniki airport, and so there was a constant clatter of helicopter rotors, which actually disrupted more than one delegation’s press conference. (It also disrupted the reporting efforts of correspondents on the scene, as I can tell you myself after listening to a radio report from a BBC World Service reporter on the peninsula with the noise of a helicopter taking off in the not-so-distant background.)

But the real monstrosity was who was ultimately assembled on that cordoned-off peninsula – “Mediterranean idyll as penal colony” is the way Herr Fritz-Vannahme expresses it. There weren’t just fifteen national delegations meeting there (the number of current EU members); there weren’t just twenty-five (the number of current and as-of-next-year members); there were thirty-three, because to this twenty-five you needed to add the two nations scheduled to join in 2007 (Romania and Bulgaria), the European/Asiatic/Muslim nation maybe scheduled to join sometime (that is, Turkey), and the five Balkan neighbors which Greece, the summit’s host, insisted on inviting for chumminess’ sake: Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia, and Albania (all scheduled to join oh-who-knows-when; well, Croatia thinks it knows when it will join). Thirty-three national delegations; and so, probably inadvertently, the EU was confronted with the nightmare that it had known for a long time was coming, namely the sheer paralysis, the sheer unwieldiness, of trying to get anything done when there are thirty-three points of view to consider. The opening statements: Even granting each head of government three or four minutes to say his or her piece stretched this event out for hours (and naturally Albania, say, got the same-sized block of time at its disposal to try to say something wise as did, say, Germany). And the “policy decisions” taken: An “end-document” about immigration and asylum policy, which Fritz-Vannahme regards as just sweeping the important questions under the rug for later; easy, unanimous approval nodded through for Javier Solano’s new European security strategy, which merely introduces use-of-force as a last resort to be used in resolving international crises.

Then there was the acceptance of the draft EU Constitution from the Constitutional Convention’s president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. I’ve already covered, here, Giscard’s remarks on that occasion; as for the heads of government, at the Thessaloniki/Sithonia EU summit they limited themselves to praising the draft with words such as “excellent” and “historic.” Most everyone remained discrete, for now, although Poland, Lithuania, and Austria let some grumbles be heard. The sense is that everyone was content to wait until the Intergovernmental Conference in October, when the fur will fly – because what’s the use of trying to make any changes to the draft at this early stage, and at this constipated conference?

Fritz-Vannahme’s column is entitled “The Last Summit” because he claims that this was the last EU summit to be held on a rotating basis in the homeland of the nation that then holds the EU presidency. From now on they will all be held in Brussels, no matter which country holds the presidency. (And recall that, according to the terms of the draft constitution, the EU presidency will stop rotating among nations next year and instead be vested in a Council “president” or “chairman” who will be elected for a term of two-and-a-half years. I have to wonder at the “last summit” claim because, after all, Italy will hold the EU presidency in the traditional way for the second half of 2003. Why wouldn’t there be the usual EU summit at some Italian city at the end of the year?)

In the end, the exact location where future EU summits are held may not matter so much – although I suppose that, for the foreseeable future, stringent security measures will have to be taken wherever they are held to prevent anti-globalist and anarchist demonstrators from disrupting them. Far more important is the paralysis brought on by the sheer number of parties involved, a thick foretaste of which we have now sampled at the Thessaloniki/Sithonia summit. Cutting through that, so that EU business can still be accomplished in some sort of an efficient way, is really what the task of the Constitutional Convention was all about; that Constitution is late (according to the calculations of Jacques Delors, and according to what we have all seen at Thessaloniki/Sithonia), and we still don’t know whether it will be effective in enabling the EU to act effectively, even when/if it is ratified. A messy situation indeed.

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