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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Is there a crisis? Not yet, there ain’t…

Le Monde seems to think there’s one already and – perhaps unsurprisingly – thinks it’s all Tony’s fault. The New York Times seems to be rather more anti-Chirac.

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 Schr�der 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 Schr�der’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.

Schr�der’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 �3 billion a year is rather easier to swallow than annual French agricultural subsidies of around �7 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…

2 Comments

  1. You may be right that the balance of power might tilt Britain's way after some coming elections on continental Europe. But I think you might be overestimating to what degree that tilt would ever get close to a tipping point.

    Yes, 3 billion is less than 7 billion, but agricultural subsidies, though a matter of contention, is hardly the object of loathing in other European nations that it is in Britain. Rightly or wrongly, most people I've heard mention it would say, "I can see where the 7 billion are going, and I'm more or less fine with that. But Britain's 3 billion are spending money in Iraq."

    Another thing is that though yes, diplomacy is a matter of personalities, national interests and public opinion are what they are and have a tendency to assert themselves no matter who's at the helm. For example, the Germans might be tired of Scroeder, but they are in no way shape or form buying the Anglo-Saxon economic bill of goods Blair is trying to sell them, and Merkel will have to take that into consideration. You have to remember that the Paris-Berlin axis pre-dates Chirac and Schroeder and has survived earlier political flip-flops.

    Britain's main problem in trying to muster a majority in Europe is that, again fairly or unfairly, they are seen by many across Europe as saboteurs and not dealing in good faith. Oh and Iraq didn't help either.

    Alexander G. Rubio
    Editor @ http://bitsofnews.com

  2. As a Swede, I find it kind of curious that the British consider Sweden an ally. You should really bother reading what Swedish media is saying. While they aren't pro-Chirac they do belong in the anti-Blair camp. British media (i.e the BBC) seems to seriously downplay how much the rest of the member states resent the rebate. Sweden is the leader of that pack – we actually refused to join the EU unless we got a rebate on the rebate – and we did. The rebate is not primarily insulting to France, but to the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany – contributors that pay much more as a percentage of GDP and per capita. Sweden was against the proposed budget, well because it didn't leave the 1% spending cap in place.

    As for the CAP, it was re-negotiated in 2002 to an acceptable if not ok level. France receives about a quarter of the CAP. Beyond the economic support, the CAP regulates environmental issues etc, so it's not all bad.

    I am in no way a supporter of the CAP, but it is nowhere nearly as unfair as the rebate. The CAP is an economic question, while the rebate is primarily a political question – it's a question of equal rules for all members.

    As for Juncker being remembered as a failure – I don't think so. I think primarily this debate and failure shows the petty egotism of a number of member states – championed by Blair and Chirac. It is shameful and a disgrace that it went so far that the 10 poorest member states volunteered to have their subsidies cut.

    Juncker tried to make a compromise which was the reasonable thing to do at that point.

    As for his statements that the French and Dutch rejections weren't really about the constitution, he couldn't be more right. Check out the stats from the Eurobarometer: http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/flash/fl

    and
    http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/flash/fl

    Dutch:
    Check out page 16 "What are all the reasons why you voted "No" at the referendum…"

    32% Lack of information
    19% Loss of national sovereignty
    14% Opposes the national government
    13% Europe is too expensive
    8% I am against European integration
    7% It will have negative effects on the employment
    etc

    French:
    31% The economy will suffer (outsourcing, employment..)
    26% Because the economy is bad.
    19% Because it's a too liberal economic plan
    18% Opposition to the president/national government
    16% Not socialist enough for Europe
    12% Too complex
    6% Against Turkey joining the union
    5% Loss of national sovereignty

    –Lucas