15 June 2006
In his diary this week, BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell provides a quick guide to the two-day European Union summit in Brussels, dissecting the jargon about EU openness, enlargement and combating crime.
The diary is published every Thursday.
DEFINING THE MISSION
Now bigger! More transparent! Less absorbent! And now with much, much more reflection! This is the summit that could make the European Union sound like a slightly alarming household cleaning appliance, as excitedly advertised on TV.
A year after the French and Dutch said "No" to the constitution this was meant to be the big moment when the leaders came together and decided what to do next. But they won't. In fact they'll probably come up with the startling idea of coming together at a summit here in a year's time and deciding what to do next.
The problem is that while some countries think the constitution is dead another large group refuses to accept this. On the whole, neither group wants to trumpet their view, in case they offend someone. So they'll rather lamely agree to "continue discussions" or some such phrase.
The aftershocks from the French and Dutch "No" votes continue
But don't believe it ends there. The Commission wants a grand declaration on the EU's purpose to be signed in the spring of next year. Britain is enthusiastic about this, arguing that if Europe faces new challenges, then it should have a new mission statement.
After the emotionally exhausting British presidency, which saw decisions on the budget and Turkey's EU membership bid, there's neither the need nor the appetite for more big rows. But there will be no end of bland statements on extremely big subjects.
What follows is your cut out and keep - or alternatively print out and throw away - guide to the continuing disputes behind the anodyne words and obscure jargon that will eventually emerge. Here are some of the biggest issues.
Will they let us see them thump the table and sulk? This is called TRANSPARENCY. The Austrians want the public to be able to hear many more debates between ministers of the 25 EU member states. They want the microphones and cameras to be allowed in whenever ministers are discussing a piece of legislation which the European Parliament also gets to vote on.
There is pressure to open up EU discussions to public scrutiny
The UK government has always championed greater openness, but the new foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, has surprised everyone by developing a touch of cold feet. She wants only the opening and closing statements shown. Her argument is that if everything in the council chamber is public then the real decisions will simply be taken in private.
As one senior, non-British, diplomat puts it: "The way the EU works is everyone is very frank about what they want, but then has to accept less. That's not easy to show in public. No-one likes it. Not in private life, not in business." And will cameras ever be allowed into big summits like this one? Very unlikely.
Then there's an important debate on how large the EU should be. Those who are worried by an ever bigger EU say it's all very well making sure individual countries come up to scratch before they are allowed to join, but there's not enough emphasis on whether the EU can afford to take them in, and whether public opinion is ready for more members. This is ABSORPTION CAPACITY.
The British want to tone down such notions and instead stress the economic and political benefits of the EU spreading to the Balkans, Turkey and Ukraine. This is perhaps one of the most important decisions that the Union faces, although it won't reach any conclusion for a good long while. But it really will have an impact on world politics if, for instance, Serbia and Turkey, are left outside the tent.
HAMPTON COURT AGENDA
What most leaders and the Commission will want to promote as the centrepiece of this summit will be a slightly earnest attempt to convince the European public that the EU is helping them in their everyday lives - improving the economy, keeping a wary eye on illegal immigration, fighting crime, and adopting policies to make energy cheaper. This is called the HAMPTON COURT AGENDA or A EUROPE OF RESULTS, and it's the area where there will be the most exalted promises and longest paragraphs, because everybody thinks it's a good idea. But there probably won't be any new concrete ideas. That's when the EU partners start to fall out.
USING THE PASSERELLE
Those of us sad enough to be excited by such things will be looking out particularly for the language used over greater co-operation between EU police forces and justice systems. The French want more such agreements and say countries should drop their automatic right to block a proposal. This is USING THE PASSERELLE.
The Commission has taken this up with enthusiasm, and is backed by the Finns, who take over presidency next month. The British have an open mind, but the Germans are dead set against. In the Commission's sights is the treatment of suspects, and they're particularly concerned about the indefinite detention without trial of foreign suspects in Belmarsh prison, in the UK.
At least on paper this will be a summit for connoisseurs of decoding language to detect the direction of travel, rather than for fans of the big fight. But we can live in hope. Perhaps someone will attempt to speak English to Mr Chirac again: the sole event that enlivened the last such gathering.
Please use the postform below to comment on any of the issues in the diary.
On democracy - EU citizens have elected MPs and an elected PM representing them in the EU, we have elected MEPs who took apart in the drafting of and adopting of the draft constitution. Irrespective of turnout at these elections, these were the opportunities to democratically engage. Plebiscites would be a third opportunity. There is no absence of possible democratic engagement. People have an opportunity and duty to vote - not complain and think a flawed referendum, which dilutes a complex issue down to a single question, will solve the democratic deficit.
James, London, formerly Brussels
I wonder how EU leaders (and people of the Union who don't want Turkey in the club) couldn't see the benefits of Turkey's membership.I understand some concerns ( like different culture and religion,overpopulation, weak economy and human rights standarts), but whwn you deservedly,rationally,reasonably compare advantages and disadvantages of the accession, it will come up that if EU would like to be a major playerin world politics she has to admit and absorb Turkey. Please open your eyes widw end think of the mistakes made in your history by your leaders left EU behind USA.
And don't make same mistakes egain.
Takyettin Karakaya, istanbul, Turkey
As a Turkish, I got bored with the demands of the EU from Turkey. Whenever Turkey meets their request, they create new ones. All this put me off joining the EU and so do Turkish people. I think Turkey should look for its prosperity in the East and I am sure that an increasing number of people in Turkey think like this.
Eren Doldur, London
As a Brit who has lived in Spain for 10 years, I have seen with my own eyes how Spain, being fully committed to the E.U. has benefited enormusly, while my native land has not. However i don't believe the Spanish voted for the Constitution. A now and popular Government asked them to, so they abliged. In France and old and unpopular President and Government asked them to - and the answer was 'up yours!'. In other words a Referendum as not a valid way to approve or reject a Constitution.
The problem for National Goverments of E.U. states is they are steadily losing what they hold most dear - POWER. Squeezed between the E.C. Commission and Parliament on one side and growing local autonomy on the other national goverments are heading rapidly towards the status of State Goverments within the U.S.A. And no Consitution - hower it is drawn up are however it is approved - can change the realities of the twenty first century.
Mike Dixon, Barcelona, Spain
I am currently living in student halls of residence in Poland with other students of all European nations. Over the last four months we have learnt about each others' culture, history, foods and drinking habits. Most of us would agree that there is not that much difference between us in that respect. One thing that we do agree on with regard to the EU is that we don't know anything about it. The first thing we know about is another rule from Brussels and no accountability. It is not that we are unintellegent or that we are not interested, we are very interested but usually the press gives us little information and that is usually of a negative slant. I am sure that some way towards giving people more information about what goes on will help towards more understanding about the EU.
Jo, Ilkeston UK
It's right that the constitution is over-specific, there is no reason why a cloning ban should be in there at all for instance - this is part of the concern Gisela Stuart MP had about it, and she was involved in the drafting. So let's redraft, get it right, and get it supported. and if for instance there are moves to put vile homophobic clauses in, emanating from Poland or Latvia, then let's confront them and have that debate - it is a real issue.
Jane, Riga. Latvia
I am no longer sure what the EU is, nor what it aims to be. Moreover, it seems that member states have differing ideas on these issues, bringing into question the entire notion of the word Union. What started off as free trade agreement has expanded into every other geopolitical/economical aspect of life despite the fact that the initial common market is still just a dream rather than a reality. States are still bickering over blatant acts of protectionism.
As for Turkey not being allowed to join because they're 'not European' (which is often the argument offered) - if this is the case then the argument should be whether or not Turkey is delisted from Europe so they can join Asia and take advantage of those regional agreements, rather than keep them in Europe but out of European clubs. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, ridiculous questions often deserve ridiculous answers. It was decided a long, long time ago by the European powers who signed the treaties creating Turkey that it would be in Europe's advantage to have Turkey in. A trading bloc that excludes the soon-to-be largest market in terms of population does not make much sense. The EU on one hand wants an alternative to Russia for energy supplies and with the other shuns the alternative, with its ever-increasing web of pipelines.
Whether anyone likes it or not, the European economy is one massive market and is here to say. That was the entire basis of the EU to begin with, a common and interwoven market so that post-war Germany would not feel the urge to split off again. And yet economic protectionism is here to say. This is one of the unique things about the EU, the manner in which countries can protect small businesses, small-scale farmers, regional products and so forth. To have this protectionism and still have the common European market, is a true feat. What they are struggling over is forming a solid European political construct with actual meaning and effect on the world stage. Though this final step may be far in the future, I think we'll make it eventually. Hopefully it will remain centered on peaceful resolution and negotiation, rather than all out war like its cross-Atlantic counterpart.
John Woodward, Paris, France
The EU is about breaking down national barriers to improve the social and economic prosperity and to engender stability across a region enclosed by a new national barrier. I'd be right behind the EU if it would admit ANY country that was willing to adopt the EU legislative payload, whatever continent they are in. Make the aim to expand to all nations on this earth who subscribe to the highest standards of human rights and social justice.
Vincent Murphy, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (ex UK)
In my opinion European Union is the monster of the Soviet Union, because the leaders of EU countries are afraid of what the people want or think about anything they do. This as in the Soviet Union which it used to oppress the people who wanted a different change from what was being offered. In that time You voted for One Party, or you didn't vote at all, because there was no other. In EU you vote for the constitution or you don't get the chanse to vote at all (the countries that delayed or approved by parlament)
David, amserdam, netherlands
Re: a few comments on the EU constitution. I believe that the EU has got the whole thing wrong right from the start. They need all 25 countries to approve the constitution for it to be ratified. Whilst I have no problem with the idea of unanimous approval, I feel that this situation is really undemocratic. Effectively, each country has 1 in 25 of the total say. There is nothing to take into account the varying populations of each country. As a British citizen, my vote would be worth 1 in 60,000,000 x 1 in 25 of the total, whereas someone from a much smaller country would have far greater say and someone from a much larger country would have far less. Also, if a smaller country votes "no" then does that not completely disenfranchise the majority? The EU should start again with this, re-write the constitution, then put it to an EU-wide referendum where every vote is worth the same amount.
What is undemocratic is ratifying EU constitution in the parliament and knowing that majority of population is against it. The constitution is dead, and sooner we accept it the better. We must move to more important things such as unemployment and underperforming economy. While EU is getting overtaken by China and India the last thing we need is arguing about the document that nobody wants.
I'm very glad the EU constitution didn't make it through. It contains too many specifics that have no place in a constitution. What's with the cloning ban paragraph, for instance? It should just have laid down voting regulations, the separation of powers and a reaffirmation of citizen's rights as expressed in existing documents.
Let's try again, and make it short and snappy this time. Anything else should be left to parliament.
Maarten Thibaut, Sint-Niklaas, Belgium
The unpalatable truth is that the EU has been inflicted upon the people of Europe without their consent having been saught let alone given. It is all well and good the leaders meeting together to decide upon the future direction of the EU, but unless it is agreed by the people, not their leaders, then it will continue to suffer from a democratic deficit. Whenever the people have been given a chance to air their views, support for the EU has varied from lukewarm to outright opposition. If things go on as they are, the EU soon implode under the weight of its own absurdity and corruption, and good riddance.
Malcolm, London, England
If the Absorption Capacity become stretched to the limit, they can use the passerelle to help Enlargement by being more open and honest during the Summmit meetings.Transparency would clarify the murky depths of EU working!
Alan David Pena
I dont agree with the comments that people from Europe have nothing in common. I work all over Europe on a regular basis and have come to the conculsion that the only real difference between European people is the language. Everyone seems to want similar things, it's just how we go about achieving those things can be different, but thats also the case in the UK. With regards to not knowing each others history. We are taught very little about our own history in the UK and European culture is very similar.
Marc W, Southport
Yes, it's dull and uninspiring and we don't understand much about each other but somewhere underneath all this there is some kind of a common culture. By all means let's have a common market and let's uphold our cultural traditions and differences but for heaven's sake let's defend our basic sense of social fairness against the brute insensitivity of 'market forces'.
David Ballantyne, Raleigh, NC, USA (ex UK)
When negotiations are being held on any matter, the more parties you have at the table the harder it is to reach a consensus. Three years ago the EU had 15 parties at the table, now there are 25. And still we hear talk of even more expansion. There is no constitution, no clear mission, and the budget is stretched to the limit. It is encouraging to see Turkey and Eastern European states improving themselves to meet EU criteria, but the EU is simply not ready to accept them.
Leslie Thom, Bronx, New YorkMartin Hudson, Salisbury, Wilts, england
Almost all of the EU countries which have ratified the constitution did so by a vote of their governments. Only 3 countries put the vote to the public in a referendum - Spain, France and Holland. Of these only Spain voted "yes". So the real democratic score so far is 2-1 against the constitution.
Nick from the UK - the democratic score (if basing it on referendums) is 2-2. Luxembourg also had a referendum.
The EU will work better when there is deeper co-operation amongst its members. This deeper co-operation can only happen during a period of stability. The 90s were such a period and the EU was able to strengthen its ties to one another through the development and implementation of the single currency. However by starting to absorb more and more countries, such stability is lost, and therefore harmonisation of taxes and constitutions becomes an ever distant reality.
An EU working closely as one will be a benefit to all its citizens, its such a shame that many of the leading politicians in Europe see the EU as a tool to further expanding control and influence.
Phil, Notts, UK
How big is enough and when do we call stop? Are we smart enough to understand there must be a stop one day. A quick sidebar: when will EU smarten up on official languages (ie. not 20 or whatever), the UN did so years ago and now it's taken for granted.
Peter D, Vesinet, France
Clearly, Europe is not ready to be anything but a trading association. In fact, the old designation ,the Common Market, is the reality.
The peoples of Europe have no common unversally accepted concepts,ideas nor plans. Even more, they appear not to have even a vague notion what their future challenges, perils and opportunities are.
This applies even more to the politicians, the "statesmen". Real statesmen are conspicuous by their rarity, almost an absence.Rather they sell themselves to the highest bidder a la Schroeder, or have totally unrealistic notion of Grandeur a la you knw who.
G.Reinis, Riga, Latvia
I am irritated by the argument that the people of Europe have rejected the constitution. I believe the current score is 15 countries have said "Yes", 2 countries have said "no" and 8 countries have yet to declare or have "postponed" decisions. It would be good if Europe's leaders worked towards changing the undemocratic policy of allowing the minority to impose on the majority.
Tony from Amsterdam: that is not exactly how the situation stands. After the French and Dutch referenda, opinion polls showed that majorities of the population in most countries that had already parliamentary ratified the constitution was opposed to it. If you are looking for an undemocratic aspect: there it is.
Erik , The Hague, Netherlands
Firstly, the EU itself agreed that the EU constitution must be adopted UNANIMOUSLY by all member states. Secondly, out of those 8 countries that have "postponed" their decisions, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Poland would reject the EU constitution if given the chance, and the Czech President has refused to sign the constitutional treaty.
Zbigniew Mazurak, Katowice, Poland
The majority of EU citizens wants it merely to be a common market but that is still far from being achieved with individual national protectionism prevalent and still no concensus on a common market for services. Rather than press for a federation which very few want, the politicians should try to deliver the true common market for which they have a real mandate. Oh and they should try to root out corruption and gravy-training as well.
Andrew, Neuenkirchen Germany
A big experiment, to be sure. But one must admit that Europe has come up in the world. Not one of the member states would be as well off if the EU did not exist. That said, let's have more power for the European Parliament and less unilateral decision-making for Brussels. Let's see people like G. Reinis in Latvia (on this page) be listened to more - only then will needed correctives be introduced.
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany
I find it incredibly arrogant that the not only has the Constitution not been 'officially' dropped, but the Austian Presidency is pressing for its rectification.
OK, it has been ratified by 15 countries, but this was put forward as a unanimous document and should therefore require unanimous support to be implemented. It would probably also run into trouble in some of the 8 countires yet to ratify, particularly the UK.
The Commission would do themselves a power of good by admitting that this cumbersome treaty should be laid to rest.
A P Burn, Cheshire
I think Mark hits the nail on the head with his last comment. EU politics are tedious, uninspiring and full of uncharismatic, banal people. Looking back at the history of Europe over the last two millenia, the EU comes out as the dullest political institution - it has no capacity to 'move' people. G. Reinis is right when he says the peoples of Europe have little in common - how much do the French know about Hungarian culture, history, politics, art etc. or the Estonians about Greece? Or the English about Poland? Any suggestions of cultural unity aren't even funny anymore, they're just tired and sad.
Alex, London, UK
The desire to build an empire that will rival the future power and size of both the US and China is the current force driving the EU. The hurdle is how to achieve this goal with the cultural, political, and economic rivalry and diversity in Europe. The EU will not make much headway towards greater unity until they are able to overcome this hurdle.
I think the EU is an incredibly clever manipulator; look at the current comments on the infighting between European politicians, the ratification of the constitution,etc. Yet the concrete events pass without a whisper. The European Arrest Warrant went through relatively quietly - although it meant that a person can be arrested in one country and surrendered to another in a much shorter period of time, and potentially without the same safeguards. The legal provisions may be bland, dry and unremarked - but these are the items which will change reality in the EU, not grandoise notions of unifying culture.
Jon, Edinburgh, Scotland
There are those who want to move forward and those who do not. Therefore we should have a union inside union. Let those coutries that want more intergration intergrate, those that do not can remain as free market partners. I believe that for Europe to survive and to have an impact on the world, we need to unite. Common market, common military, common policies and direct elections (1 person, 1 vote, no voting regions, for parliament, that could then form goverment) and no country should have veto, for with veto we are as useless and impotent as UN. I believe this in turn would create few blocks inside EU that would ultimately realise a dream of strong united Europe.
Lasse, Tampere, Finland
Declaring that "15 countries have said yes and only 2 rejected the Constitutional Treaty" sounds incorrect: what's the most relevant, number of voters or countries? In my country I didn't have the opportunity to declare my opinion, the parliament majority (and not necessarily the one I voted for) did so instead of me.
Europeans have nothing to share? I think the problem are rather decision-makers at local and European level and their lack of political will and vision, not people that doesn't know and see the true opportunities in a politically real EU...
giorgio salvetti, Rome, Italy
The EU is a management enterprise, not about democratic politics at all, so the managers can and do change the 'rules' as they go along, eg over the constitution. It is a vast, unproductive monopolist entity that needs to be broken up and sold, out of date and possibly disastrous for the real European cultural good, as impending Turkish accession shows.
HIldebrand, Oxford, UK
Alex, how much do Estonians need to know about Greece or English about Poland when we are all European? How much do Californians know about people from Maine or people from Tenesse abour Washington? That is not to argue for federalism but when we are very far away from federalism but trying to work towards doing on a European scale best what can be done by Europe and at a nation state what can best or rightly done by a nation state. It is good we learn about each nations culture but not that we try to create some amorphous culture. Celebrate the wonders of Estonia, Greece, England or Poland and also what's good about Europe. It's said earlier that we are all better off being in the EU so lets try and make it work best for all Europeans.
Andrew, London, UK
Why is it that all debates on whatever aspect of the EU invariably decend into some kind of discussion of whether the Europe has a common culture or identity. This is completly beside the point. The EU is an organisation that suppliments and coordinates the policies of nation states. It was designed with the diversity of Europe in mind and at no point based on the assumption that there was a common european people. This is why it is not undemocratic that one or two countries can hold up the process of ratification, this is why it is unimportant that the EU does not 'move'people. Once people realise this I am sure that progress on the future of Europe will be much more straight forward.
George Turner, Rome, Italy
"Not one of the member states would be as well off if the EU did not exist."
On the contrary, EVERY member state would be better off if the EU didn't exist. In fact, the European countries were at the height of their power BEFORE the EU was founded and after it was, they became irrelevant. Great Britain, for example, had the biggest empire in the history of the world. It has wrongly dismantled it and even betrayed the Commonwealth, and joined the EU. Now it's much weaker than before 1973.
Zbigniew Mazurak, Katowice, Poland
Whilst I understand Tony's irritation, I would like to get a bit pedantic with his term 'the people of Europe' and their views on the constitution. One of the main arguments against this constitution is that it hasn't involved the 'people' as much as it could. Consequently when given the option in a referendum 2 nations said 'Yes' and 2 said 'Non'.
To be truely democratic there would be one vast referendum across the whole of Europe - but this would mean that the nations of Benelux,Greece , Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta would have a combined say of less than France. To be truely democratic, every EU citizen should have the same value vote.
Andrew, Malvern, UK
Alex & G.Reinis - The people of Europe have far more in common than you think. We all tend to focus on what makes us different and ignore what's the same. Closer EU integration is a bit of a catch 22 - if we don't try to intergrate we continue to focus on what makes us different - it's got to start somewhere. I for one am proud to be English, proud to be British and proud to be European - it's the differences between us at every level that makes life so colourful. Closer European integration has helped all the EU nations since the end of WWII. A greater sense of 'EU-ness' would help bring us to a closer understanding of each other, and practcal EU wide legislation (especially for greater inter-state trade & movement of people & services) can only increase the level of wealth we currently enjoy.
Richard Spurr, Leics. UK
The European countrys are different, but also parts of the western civilisation (which also consists of North America, Australia, New Zealand). There are other civilisations, for example the Chinese and The Indian civilisations that are advancing fast. If we Europeans want to stay in a leading position, both economically and otherwise, we must stick together in the EU. If every small European country stands alone, we will surely go downwards, slowly but steadily.
Georg Larsson, Karlstad Sweden
"Why is it that all debates on whatever aspect of the EU invariably decend into some kind of discussion of whether the Europe has a common culture or identity."
Because this, for example, is part of the debate concerning Turkey's entry, and a defining feature of discussions on where the EU's borders should stop. This not only a question of political identity but also cultural identity and shared heritage. These issues are highlighted in some of the EU research council's funding frameworks. I suppose we focus on the differences because they are ultimately how individual regions are defined for many people, especially within the context of tourism. The EU has promoted an understanding of diversity from the start, but its expansion and constitution have prompted these questions about cultural as well as political identity.
Alex, London, UK
I know most don't want to hear this, but I believe the EU can learn a lot from American history. The colonies started out very independent, and it took a while to build a cohesive national identity (Robert E. Lee turned down an offer to lead Union forces because his native Virginia had joined the Confederacy during the Civil War). However, the freedom allowed by the federal system has served the US well, taking into consideration both greater population areas and state concerns. While this does not mean national identities need be erased, it is a system that would give significance to being both (for example) Dutch and European.
Joseph Breems, Moreno Valley, CA, USA
The EU should address the needs of all Europeans in a clear and transparent manner. The biggest problem and barrier for the EU is the linguistic divisions in Europe. If all EU countries were able to adopt some sort of artificial language just for the EU burreacracy, not for the EU countries themselves, or revive Latin in a similar way that the Israelis revived Hebrew, then there is hope. For instance, the UK and Slovakia could make Latin their official language in dealing with all the EU authorities and between EU countries. A common tongue in the EU would resolve perhaps 95 percent of the problems and conflicts in the EU today. The EU should act like a country and offer regular newscasts about its activities. Voting should have been done simultaneously for all 450 million citizens. In the year 2006 there should be no barriers to doing this. People need to start thinking beyond the barriers placed on them by their cultures. Petty, petty conflicts like the Catalans wanting to bolt from Spain and the Montenegrans wanting to leave Serbia should end. Zbigniew Mazurak, Katowice, Poland is very mistaken. The 2 billion people that lived under the UK yoke for centuries would not feel the way that you did. Your thinking is very 17th century.
Janne Parviainen, Helsinki, European Union
Maybe we should dismantle the E.U.Maybe it would be better to go back as simple states without any kind of cooperation.Maybe it would be better to be as citizens of Sparta,Athens,Thebes,Corinth instead of being UNITED as Greece and wait for the Persians to come ,or the Romans...WHAKE UP we are all EUROPEANS with a common destiny.Europe is our future country!!
Jim Tsaousakis, Gastouni-Elias Greece
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