Europe after Brussels

Posted in Europe | 15-Dec-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

It came by no surprise. The 25-countries European Summit in Brussels was a defeat for Europe.

It might not be the end of a “Political Union Europe” speaking with one voice, but without any doubt, it was a serious set-back, which will delay the process at least by one year.

For a long time a new voting system had been the bone of contention. The old system from Nice did not take into account the different size of the member states’ population. A small country had the same weight as a big one. The new system would have increased the voting power of the countries with the bigger population – like Germany.

The second issue was the consensus vote. In the past, the “Europe of 15” followed the principle of consensus. In the new constitution developed by a “convent” chaired by former French President, Giscard d’Estaing there was a proposal for a “double majority.”
“Europe of 25” would have a system in which a majority of 60 percent would lead to a decision: 60 percent of the 25 member states and 60 percent of the EU total population.
Germany and France pressed very hard for that system. Spain and Poland were against. They were afraid of losing weight in the new system and succeeded in avoiding an unanimous vote in spite of a lot of arm twisting prior to the conference.

In my view, the real problem was not the voting system, but the politics from Germany and France over the recent years. The problem was fuelled by the European dissent about the war in Iraq. Germany and France were firmly against this war, while the UK, Spain and Poland took part. In the tough discussion prior to the war and during the war there were openly controversial opinions between both sides. France and Germany were perceived as behaving like great powers who are trying to dominate the rest of Europe. This was naturally objected by other, smaller countries. It was at that time that Donald Rumsfeld invented the terms of “old” and “new Europe”.

In my view, it was that rift that caused the failure in Brussels. Poland and Spain objected because of their distrust of France’ and Germany’s likely behaviour under the new voting system. They perceived a risk of being relegated to a minor role under the leadership of France and Germany.

Brussels was a defeat for France and Germany. France and Germany must try to regain the trust and confidence of the European partners. Current ideas raised in the two countries like “Europe with different speeds” are counterproductive in bringing “Europe of 25” on track again. These are fault lines that one has to take into account.

At the end of the day, it might come to the recognition that the national interests of 25 nations are too big of a hurdle to be surmounted. A “Political United Europe” speaking with one voice might remain a dream.