Flood of Brussels Complaints in Dutch Press

If the Dutch on-line press is any indication, opinion in the Netherlands over the results of the just-completed European summit in Brussels (which was supposed to make progress towards a final European Constitution) is no higher than in France (covered in the following entry). Indeed, these articles offer some key updates to developments.

An especially valuable piece comes from Friday’s NRC Handelsblad, EU Lands Critical over Constitution’s Progress. (But the NRC is an evening paper, anyway; so it has even more time than its morning competitors to update readers on what is going on.) In the NRC’s pages, quotes expressing dissatisfaction come flooding from Benelux leaders at the summit. Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker: The summit had “no value-added.” Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstad: “We can’t just keep on repeating our points-of-view.” (Jacque Chirac’s public commentary on this is suitably sphinx-like: simply that “I know the European culture of my friends Juncker and Verhofstadt. That is all that I want to say.”) And of course Dutch premier Jan-Peter Balkenende: “If we keep on having these sorts of talking-rounds, we won’t get there.” (“. . . schieten wij niet op.“) Balkenende added, “Whether we’ll be able to make December [i.e. finish deliberations with a final-version Constitution acceptable to all], you can’t say.” Another article on the summit, from the Volkskrant (European Leaders Dissatisfied with Constitution’s Tempo) adds comments from German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, to the effect that he had heard “nothing new” at Brussels (the one day he spent there), and that someone needed to hurry up and get some compromises going, before everyone simply hardened their respective positions.

(Oh, and there’s also the photo on the front page of Friday’s Het Financiële Dagblad (the Netherland’s leading business newspaper), which I can’t show here for obvious reasons. Silvio Berlusconi and Jan-Peter Balkenende are standing together at the Brussels summit; Berlusconi is explaining something to Balkenende, gesturing, and the Dutch prime minister has his hands clasped behind his back and looks very, very bored.)

As a result of all this discontent there were already changes to his plan forced on Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. He had mentioned the possibility of yet another EU summit, an “informal” one, in mid-November. Given the “no value-added” opinion about this one, that suggestion went over like a lead balloon among Berlusconi’s European colleagues, and it seems like it has now been dropped. Instead, mid-November is supposed to see Italy come forth with its compromise proposals, derived from bilateral consultations which the Italian Foreign Ministry will hold between now and then with the other twenty-four member/future-member countries. Previously, Italy had promised this for the end of November. Instead, that already-planned foreign ministers’ meeting will take place on 28-29 November. That is supposed to clear the way for a successful conclusion to negotiations at the regular Rome summit of 12-13 December.

Whether that actually happens certainly remains to be seen. The Finns, at least (from a Finnish diplomat quoted in the Volkskrant article) calmly contemplate negotiating all the way up until next May – by which point all twenty-five countries will actually be members of the EU. But there simply has to be a final result by then, for elections to the European parliament take place in June, 2004, and the plan is to hold the referenda on the Constitution (in those countries that will have them) on the same occasion.

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