Legacy of summit failure

20-12-2003

As Poland works on its future EU policy others are worrying about the future of the EU without the streamlining that the constitution would have brought. It may now be many months or years before the constitution-writers take up their pens again. What impact could this have on the future of the EU? Heather Grabbe is the Vice Director from the London based Centre for European Reform.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission "I thing the new members aren't so worried about the break-up of the constitutional discussion, because basically they'll be able to come into the EU on the 1st. of May despite that. Enlargement can proceed on the basis of the Nice treaty. I think the problem is that it's a PR disaster. It makes the union look divided, incompetent, unable to agree on things, and of course the tactics employed at the summit by a number of countries have caused a lot of concern in Central and Eastern Europe. There was certain amount of bullying going on by some countries and that does affect public attitudes as well as the fears of politicians."

A public relations disaster for the European Union, but in effect it's not what you would call a disaster for the EU - the business of the EU goes on, surely?

"Yes indeed it does. I think the union will continue as before. The problem is the fact that the EU will not be operating very efficiently if it's still going on with the same institutional structure that was effectively designed for six countries and then modified for 12 and then 15. Really we need to be thinking about all of the streamlining reforms which are very important which were there in the constitution. How are we going to cope without them?"

Poland was one of the countries insisting on the treaty of Nice arrangements, so I wonder is there some possibility of finding agreement on this issue of voting influence?

"I think Spain could change its position after its elections next March but Poland is in a tricky position because the government is extremely weak and it therefore has limited room to manoeuvre. Things will change if Poland has elections in 2004, which is possible, but I think fundamentally Poland's position is not going to alter that much because public opinion has become so galvanized on the issue. Now we see Poles feeling very resentful towards Germany in a way they haven't done since 1939. It's a real pity that this issue has ended up being Poland against Germany after decades of positive reconciliation between the two countries."

And in a 2 speed Europe, if we're looking at some countries going ahead with deeper integration then other countries catching up some time in the future, where do you see Central European countries in that?

"I don't think there is going to be a 2 speed Europe. I think that's a plan B that France would dearly love to promote because it keeps them very much at the heart of Europe and it gives them a club within the club which they can run but I don't think it's going to emerge for several reasons. One is that France and Germany don't have a great project to put forward which would unite them. They're actually divided on a lot of key policy issues, also because the new members are not exactly attracted by this idea that they join the union and then a kind of inner sanctum is formed. I think the new members will try to join any kind of club within the club which emerges but I don't think that's going to work in terms of pushing forward on particular initiatives or policy ideas. It's much more of a political tactic by France in particular but also Germany to an extent. It's not really a feasible way of running the union."

20-12-2003