From that NYT article, Luxembourg’s somewhat hysterical Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker once again resorting to hyperbole and nonsense:
“People will tell you that Europe is not in crisis. It is in a deep crisis.”
I’m afraid, Mr Juncker, that I’m going to be one of those people. After all, considering Britain now has potential allies in this budget battle – the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland – and the EU can chug by on prior financial agreements for a fair while, the only “crisis” seems to be a difference of opinion. Which I’d say is fairly healthy.
Well, I suppose that some of the hypocritical name-calling reported by the BBC are less so (I’m looking at you, Jacques – “pathetic” and “arrogant” indeed…). And EU Rota‘s reports of more silliness at the summit – including apparent attempts by Juncker to bribe other countries to resist Britain’s demands – are also hardly what you’d expect from a meeting of 25 heads of state. (Hysterical and a crook – a nice way to go down in history there Jean-Claude.)
It would obviously have been nice – and certainly would have been sensible – to come to some agreement over the last couple of days, but the fact that they only set aside such a short period of time would tend to suggest they all knew it would be a fairly pointless exercise from the get-go. As Carl Bildt points out,
“A few months ago, no one really expected even a chance of a deal already at this meeting. And there is ample time before 2007 to take the crucial decisions.”
The only person it’s really a crisis for (beyond the somewhat hysterical Juncker, who knows that his presidency of the EU will now be regarded by history as a failure) is actually Chirac.
As Bildt also notes, Germany will probably go to the polls on 18th September, at which point Chancellor Schrï¿½der will be out on his arse, and Chirac will have lost his best – perhaps only – international buddy. France will almost certainly get increasingly isolated within the EU as Schrï¿½der’s likely replacement, Angela Merkel, has already begun to cosy up to Blair, suggesting one of those occasional shifts in dynamics that international relations occasionally undergo.
Diplomacy is about personalities as much as it is about policies.
Schrï¿½der’s almost certainly gone in three months. Chirac is likely to follow him out of office in 2007, has been unpopular at home and abroad throughout his presidency, and post-referendum is even more of a lame duck than he was before.
Blair – as much as these facts may be distasteful – has just been returned to office with a sizable majority and is best mates with the most powerful man in the world. He may be going at some point too, but unlike Jacques and Gerhard – where the dates are all but set – only Tony knows when Tony goes.
This gives BLair the edge as he could – just about – hang on to power for the best part of the next five years. A terrifying prospect, but a plausible one if that time would enable him to refound the EU and secure himself a place in the history books as “saviour of Europe” rather than “lapdog of Dubya”.
The balance of power is shifting in Britain’s favour, and the argument is gradually falling Britain’s way – because, let’s face it, a British rebate of around ï¿½3 billion a year is rather easier to swallow than annual French agricultural subsidies of around ï¿½7 billion. The longer this little spat can be drawn out, the worse off France will be, as the more people will start to make direct comparisons. When they do that, they start to see Britain’s point – even if they don’t agree about the rebate, they can see that France’s preferential treatment is outdated and unfair.
Where Britain has been kept on the fringe for decades by a combination of her own and French reluctance for London to have more of a say in the running of the EU, now that whole “Heart of Europe” thing which has been promised for so long has the potential – just – to become reality.
If Blair can hold out until the end of September (no trouble at all, especially with Britain holding the EU presidency), then Chirac’s loss of his German buddy will almost certainly significantly alter the entire EU situation. So it looks like 18th September’s the next date for your Eurospat diaries, folks – that’ll be when the next power-shift should be taking place, and that’s when the crisis (if there is one) will really kick off. Unless, of course, there are any more surprises – and the EU’s getting rather good at those of late…