Nice Summit: big players reserve their seats before historic eastern expansion

11-12-2000

The town of Nice has just played host to one of Europe's most important meetings since Maastrict in 1991, and maybe even Yalta in 1945. For the last five days leaders of the 15-member European Union have been locked in discussion over how the EU is run and how to keep it running when it almost doubles in size. Expansion to the East would have been impossible without some pretty radical surgery - the EU itself claimed it wanted to create a fairer, more efficient Union to cope with the extra strain of running the whole continent, not just the western half of it.

Finally, at 4.30 in the morning, the EU leaders emerged to announce a deal after a marathon 18-hour session. But what they've come up with looks far from radical, and more like an attempt to preserve the great power status of the Union's big boys--France, Germany, Italy and Britain--before the bloc takes on 12 new members. The small countries are especially unhappy: Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres was reported as saying the agreement was "a coup d'etat by the big member states."

In a nutshell, the leaders diluted plans to abandon national vetoes and extend majority voting to more policy areas, and postponed for at least a decade any far-reaching streamlining of the Union's executive, the European Commission. Critics say both the Commission and smaller states will have less influence in the running of Europe under the Treaty of Nice. So is the Treaty unfair for small countries such as the Czech Republic, which hopes to join within the next four or five years? Not necessarily, says commentator Vaclav Pinkava:

11-12-2000