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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 June 2005, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
EU summit exposes internal feuding
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker
Juncker's attempt to secure a deal on the EU budget backfired
The Brussels fiasco surely showed the European Union at its worst. It was fractious when it should have been fraternal, confrontational when it should have been co-operative. And it was avoidable.

A wise president of the European Council (currently held on the rotating six-month basis by the Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker) would not have gone for a budget deal that was clearly impossible and is not needed until next year in any case.

Such a presidency would have concentrated instead on picking up the pieces from and learning the lessons of the French and Dutch votes on the constitution.

But wisdom does not come easily to member states which have only a brief time in which to make their mark in the presidency.

So Mr Juncker went for it and missed by a mile.

One wonders what the Luxembourg ambassadors in London and Paris were doing for their salaries. Did they not warn of disaster?

No wonder the constitutional treaty calls for a five-year presidency which can take a longer view.

Lack of leadership

I mention the presidency because it goes to the heart of Europe's problems: the lack of leadership.

The Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka referred to this specifically. "What we badly need is leadership," he said after the summit.

"What I am worried about is that the coincidence of the lack of a budget compromise and the referendum results plus the slowdown in the ratification process will create an atmosphere of doom and gloom in the European Union."

There is, it seems, no "brave Horatius" to defend Rome, no one to respond to his cry: "Now who will stand on either hand, and keep the bridge with me?"

In that poem, Macaulay praised the Romans for their solidarity: "The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old." He would hardly say the same of modern Europe.

Rivalry

Instead, what is emerging is a number of competing leaderships, none of which inspires much of a following or has much prospect of delivering what it promises.

There is of course the old guard, epitomised by President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder. But one has just lost his referendum and the other might not survive an election in September.

Sweden, Finland and Denmark (...) could be the role models the EU needs
John Palmer, European Policy Centre

And even some of their supporting troops are breaking ranks. The Dutch have done so already.

There is Tony Blair, who wants a more economically liberal Europe and who might see in this another of the big projects he loves so much. But he himself is on his way out in this parliament.

And his talk of putting more money into research is not new. That does not mean to say it should not be tried again.

However, some years ago there was a programme called Esprit - the European strategic programme for research into information technology. It did some useful work but it was minor work. Bill Gates achieved somewhat more.

In 2000, the EU committed itself at Lisbon to making itself more competitive and economically aggressive. In February this year, the European Commission had to issue a report saying that "a new start" was needed.

So "liberalisation" is easier said than done. And not everyone is convinced of the case. France and Germany might well argue that their strong industrial bases will see them through without too much 'globalisation'.

Then there is the new wave from the East but they have not yet had time to make their mark. And for the immediate future their priority will be to get extra funds from the EU.

According to John Palmer political director of the European Policy Centre in Brussels, it is worth looking to the Scandinavian countries for the future.

"Sweden, Finland and Denmark are combining modern economic policies with traditional social protection. They could be the role models the EU needs," he said.


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