A Nice* Refresher

The EU’s Nice Treaty of December, 2000, stands in the immediate background to the ongoing deliberations in Rome over the draft Constitution that began this past weekend. As I mentioned yesterday, should this attempt to arrive at a mutually-acceptable EU Constitution (or perhaps “constitutional treaty”) fail, the status quo of that Nice Treaty is what the EU will be left with, until (if/when) the next attempt at further institutional reform actually succeeds. As we also have seen, Nice has had a more direct influence on the Rome IGC, in that the advantageous voting allocation in the European Council awarded there to Spain and Poland – for whatever reason – has become a point of contention. Those countries seemingly refuse to agree to the draft Constitution terms which would have them give it up.

So we find just what the doctor ordered in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, namely a refresher on that Nice summit of almost three years ago was all about, in an article entitled Failed Nice Summit Continues to Play Tricks with the EU.

What it was all about was those perennial efforts to try to reform EU institutions and procedures, to make them still capable of functioning effectively even after adding ten or more new member-states. It’s just that, at Nice, governments tried to accomplish that via the tried-and-true method for achieving forward progress – namely having a summit of the heads of state/government, i.e. the top national leaders, and having long negotiating sessions that routinely lasted way, way into the night (so that you’d think that someone, somewhere would eventually give in just so that their delegation could finally go to bed).

As the Trouw article recalls, Nice turned into a a four-day-and-night marathon, but even that did not produce a very good result in the end. (Maybe by then everybody knew what the game was all about, so that all national leaders and their foreign affairs staffs routinely trained themselves back home, in secret and perhaps at military facilities, for enduring sleep-deprivation.) It’s true that vote allocation for the all-important Council of Ministers was the central topic: those new states were going to join in a few years, they naturally had to be given votes on the Council, so what was the best way to re-jig the system to incorporate them? Germany wanted to seize the chance at Nice to finally get the most votes on the Council than any other EU country; after all, it has the biggest population of them all by far. But France refused to let that happen – and France was the summit host, and thus in control of the agenda. Belgium was also unhappy, as it seemed that got only eleven votes on the Council, while the Netherlands got twelve, and Belgian leaders did not acknowledge that the population totals between the two states were different enough to justify anything but parity between them.

Out of all this, the winners who eventually emerged were, as we know too well, Spain and Poland. In fact, Trouw reports that Poland was given the same amount of Council votes as Spain (namely 27; Germany, France, the UK, and Italy each have but 29) at the insistence of Germany, or, specifically, Bundeskanzler Schröder. What, one wonders, are Schröder’s views on the theme of gratuitous acts of generosity and ingratitude now?

We may not know that, but we do know his verdict of the Nice process. All that complaining and horse-trading, Trouw reports him saying, “promises little that is good for the future.” That future is now, and is happening (or trying to happen) in Rome at the IGC, and in the words of Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, “if we can’t get any further than that point [i.e. the dispute over voting allocation”>, then these discussions are basically superfluous.”

* Sorry folks: The pun was intended!

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