Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Well spank me silly and call me a rooster

I wasn’t expecting that. Not in a month of dodgy backroom discussions, bad compromises, and shoddy short-term attempts at political face-saving.

Yep – they’ve actually struck a deal on a new EU treaty.

However, I’ll have to reserve judgement on the thing until I’ve had a chance to read it – and considering it was only agreed a few hours ago, I’ll need a bit of time on that one…

Some things it does seem to be keeping from the old constitution no one can really – if they think about it for half a moment – argue with:

– more power for Parliament (i.e. more democracy and accountability)
– a weaker Commission (i.e. more democracy and accountability)
– a proper president (i.e. – hopefully – more democracy and accountability)

Others kept on have less obvious immediate benefits, like the EU foreign minister (after all, what’s the point when there’s nothing like foreign policy agreement across all 27 member states, and we’re pretty much all members of NATO anyway?). But all that really sounds like is giving Javier Solana a fancier job title.

The reduction of veto powers is also going ahead – essential for any movement on pretty much any issue, especially with the likes of the current Polish government throwing their weight around – and that too is going to give the Eurosceptics plenty of room for ranting shouts of lost sovereignty and the like.

But then, let’s face it, when it comes to the EU, the Eurosceptics are always going to find something to moan about.

Anyway, first reaction: Yet another botched compromise and yet more delaying tactics (they’ve put off restructuring the voting weights until 2014 – when, they’re no doubt hoping, the current Polish government will no longer be in power to veto the new proposals.

More detailed analysis some point in the next few days, most likely.

(Oh, and sorry for the radio silence here recently – an insanely hectic week in the real world. Of which more if/when it all comes off…)

More reactions:

The Economist’s Europe Blog (reporting at 2:30am) – “a ridiculously drawn-out Brussels summit is set to end with a deal that pleases nobody. Business as usual, in short.”

England Expects – “Sarko tells us that France wins, Blair says that the UK wins, Merkel says Europe wins. It’s an odd game when everybody is a winner.”

Mark Mardell (BBC Europe Editor) – “As for those who support the European Union, the pragmatists will be relieved and the idealists mortified. The Merkels, Sarkozys, Barrosos and possibly even Browns of this world will be relieved that a union of 27 states can still, just about, reach an agreement… There will, again, be talk of an inner core pressing ahead alone. As the outgoing Belgian prime minister has pointed out, there already is one: the countries that are in the euro, don’t have border controls and co-operate on policing. They will feel a glimmer of hope that even if the steps are tiny, then at least they are going in the right direction.”

International Herald Tribune – “Failure would have damaged Europe’s aspirations to improve its stature on the world stage at a time when the union is striving to become an equal partner with Washington and play a leading role on global issues like climate change, the Middle East and an assertive Russia.”

Telegraph – “The new treaty – due to be signed by the end of this year and come into effect in 2009 – will create a new post of President of Europe and a single legal identity for the EU, allowing it to sign up to international deals. But it grants the UK an opt-out on a charter of human and social rights, retains Britain’s independent foreign policy and tax and benefit arrangements and allows the Government in Westminster to “opt in” to those parts of EU judicial and crime policy it chooses.”

Financial Times – “Although stripped of its grand title and symbols of statehood like a flag and anthem, the new treaty contains many of the constitution’s main ideas for making the enlarged EU more efficient and coherent on the world stage… But Mr Blair’s failure to stop Mr Sarkozy watering down the competition references in the treaty infuriated Gordon Brown”

Deutsche Welle – “Blair largely succeeded in sticking to the four ‘red line’ conditions he set for agreement on the new treaty — that Britain would not cede control over foreign policy, its judicial and police system, tax and social security rules, and an EU charter of fundamental rights.”

Independent – “At lunchtime, Mr Blair was happy with his deal with the French President and his spokesman said French ‘sensitivities’ could be addressed. But Mr Brown’s intervention forced him to return to the negotiating table. A legally binding protocol stressing the EU’s belief in competition was then added to the ‘mini-treaty’ after talks involving Mr Blair, M Sarkozy and José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.”

Guardian – “While the Blair camp argued it had defended all the key British positions against Brussels’s interference in the British legal system and legislation, the incoming Brown government is nonetheless certain to face a storm of protest from the Eurosceptic press, and the Conservative opposition demanding a referendum on Europe’s new “reform treaty” replacing the defunct 2004 constitution.”

EU Observer – “The result, full of compromises, opt-out opportunities and special texts for certain countries, is not going to give rise to a treaty that wins any beauty contests: easier-to-grasp names such as EU ‘laws’ have been dropped in order to maintain the current ‘regulations’ and ‘directives’ seen as less symbolic of statehood; the flag, anthem, motto and name ‘constitution’ fell by way of the same argument.”

New York Times – “Failure would have damaged Europe’s aspirations to improve its stature on the world stage at a time when the European Union is striving to become an equal partner with Washington and play a leading role on global issues like climate change, the Middle East and an assertive Russia. It would also have severely damaged Mrs. Merkel, who had staked Berlin’s prestige on a successful outcome now, when it holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.”

Le Monde has a breakdown of what the new treaty will contain (in French, of course)

Meanwhile, “mastermind” of the piss-poor constitutional treaty, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, is still blathering on about the popularity of his baby on his shiny new blog. I know that having a still-born child must be traumatic, but you’d think he’d be over it by now.

And finally, here’s the summary of the summit (WARNING: .PDF) – thankfully only 32 pages rather than the hundreds of the old constitution… This looks like it covers the majority of what will be the final treaty text.

In-depth analysis soon. Promise. (Probably…)

Update: EU Referendum (having recently had some nice, sensible EU posts after a militaristic few months) goes back to playing to the batty eurosceptic gallery: “a naked coup d’etat attempt”.

Heh! Funny paranoid patriots done gone all hyperbolic and silly again. I also like “the European Union – as represented by the European Council – is seeking to dictate to the member states what it shall (and shall not) include in a treaty”.

Erm… The Council of the European Union is made up of the heads of each EU member state. Wouldn’t “the heads of the EU member states are seeking to tell their own countries what they are going to include in the treaty” be slightly more accurate?

10 Comments

  1. Clive – you should know better than to misrepresent other people’s arguments. The European Council is a quasi institution of the European Union, its members representing the European Union, within the framework of the EU treaties. The IGC is a conference of the representatives of independent member states, representing their respective peoples, working withing the legal framework of the Vienna Convention onf treaty Law.

    That they are the same people is neither here not there. the concept of “double hatting” is well known and understood in many areas of government. Take for instance, a minister and a constituency MP – they may be the same person but one represents the government, the other his or her constituents. The classic example is the Atorney General – at one cabinet minister and legal advisor to the government and, with the other hat, the most senior law officer of the independent judiciary.

    If you read John Major’s account of the Maastricht negotiations in his memoirs, he describes vividly, the “double hatting” – showing that he well understood the difference in roles he was undertaking.

  2. Yep – double-hatting does take place (and Major’s memoirs are a surprisingly good read to boot, one of the better ex-PM memoirs of recent years, if not a patch on Macmillan’s).

    But come on (and I say this with the greatest respect for your knowledge of the EU, if not for most of your political opinons) your phrasing was surely indented to confuse your (largely fairly batty and not overly-knowledgeable) readership.

    Pretty much everyone gets confused between the European Council, Council of Europe, and the Council of the European Union in any case – chuck that on top of your ongoing campaign to make the EU out to be as bad as you can (in many cases entirely justified, as with your explorations into the practicalities of the CFP a while back, but frequently stretching the point beyond the facts to fit the preconception) to suggest that the will of the European Council is somehow indicative of that fictional monolithic beast “the EU” is playing up to your (irritatingly large) readership, surely?

    If the Commission says something, I’ll vaguely accept that as “the EU says” – but when it’s the various heads of state, it doesn’t quite wash.

    All that seems to have happened here is that there’s been yet another bad compromise (a bad compromise that makes the EU no worse, really, from an anti-EU perspective, but no better from a pro-EU one), and the various heads of the various EU member states have (with their European Council hats on) agreed that (with their head of state hats on) they will do something or other in the foreseeable future. There’s no conflict of interest, because it’s the same people doing it, and both sets of hats have exactly the same purpose.

    Sorry for all the sub-clauses. Somewhat drunk…

  3. Nosemonkey,

    your constant resort to ad hominem is very telling. Why is someone “batty” if they don’t share your opinion?

  4. Telling and “constant” how, exactly? It’s an affectionate term which I apply equally to the extreme anti- and pro-EU lot. (Although I suppose I do tend to go for “barking” for the europhiles, for some reason…)

    Read a bit more of this blog, and you’ll hopefully see that your preconceptions are amiss.

  5. Finally a good read on Europe. Will follow this blog, i hope, more. On the whole treaty thing. I like the fact that we are now officially done reflecting. Like the fact that the main democratic innovations are in there (as you mentioned). Not sure about the competition-rules, but i already heard that sarkozy will have to back down on it.
    Back in The Netherlands it became clear very quickly that populism is with anti-EU as the farright AND farleft both called for referenda before Holland says YES to anything again. Our blonde rightwinger Wilders continously calls for a Dutch exit from the European club and joining EFTA.
    And we are statistically the most euro-loving nation…

  6. nosemonkey,

    “constant” only referred to this post and your 1:02 response, not the blog overall, and was based on the fact that you passed no comment on any of the other sources you list (apart from a pop at Giscard).

    I happen to think the blogs (EU Ref included) have covered this much better than the MSM, and got on the case of analysing the document, rather than basing their coverage on journalists swanning around the conference swigging free wine and grubbing for gossip about who said what to whom.

    As someone who reads the EU Ref blog, as well as many other blogs, I took umbrage at being labeled “batty and unknowledgeable.” I’ve read your previous post now, but I’m a bit confused as to your overall position.

    You seem to be calling for root and branch reform, which I’m sure you’ll concede is highly improbable. I think you must be a “euro-optimist”!

  7. Richard – occasionally optimistic, it’s true. My basic EU philosophy (if you’re interested) can be found here.

    Oh, and I don’t doubt that among the readers of EU Referendum there are a decent number of sensible and bright types. It’s just that the comment forum doesn’t seem to indicate that overly often, and our man North does seem to play up to the more – shall we say eccentric? – readers rather more these days. Which I think is a real shame – he can be one of the better, more knowledgeable anti-EU commentators when he puts his mind to it.

  8. Okay, I’ve read that now. I largely agree with the analysis, and concur that support for membership and desire to leave is based as much on emotional response (you say hope and idealism) as caste-iron logic.

    As you’re interested in such things, you should read Hugh Gaitskell’s speech on EEC membership from 1962, if you haven’t already, which makes fascinating reading.

    http://atangledweb.squarespace.com/tangled-articles/hugh-gaitskell-on-eec-membership.html

  9. Nosemonkey, time has passed but I’m calling you on this:

    “to suggest that the will of the European Council is somehow indicative of that fictional monolithic beast “the EU” is playing up to your (irritatingly large) readership, surely?”

    http://ec.europa.eu/news/external_relations/070620_1_en.htm

    somebody needs to tell the “monolithic beast” that it’s fictional.

  10. Sorry, old boy – not sure what you mean there.

    That article states the EU’s support for the full-on abolition of the death penalty. “The EU” in this context, the article makes clear, means the three major legislative-forming parts: Commission, Parliament and Council.

    See: “the EU commission is proposing” (paragraph 3) – proposing legislation is one of the commission’s roles ; “the European parliament adopted” (paragraph 6) – that’s what the parliament does ; “The foreign ministers of the EU countries have also decided” (paragraph 6) – which is what the Council of Ministers / Council of the European Union does.

    Please note, however, that when I called old Dr North, it was about his claims that just one element, the European Council (which is, of course, different to the Council of the European Union) represented the EU. This story shows the three major parts acting efficiently as one. It’s no more monolithic than is the Westminster system when the Cabinet tables legislation, Parliament approves it, and the Civil Service implements it.