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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
EU summit defies 'dull' tag
Mark Mardell
By Mark Mardell
BBC Europe editor, Brussels

Many observers have been making jokes about this summit being the dullest ever, a continuation of a decision not to decide about the future of the constitution after the Dutch and French "No" votes a year ago.

KEY DECISIONS
Firm proposals on constitution in two years time
Berlin declaration on EU's values and ambitions next year
Cameras to be allowed in throughout key ministerial meeting (British defeat)
Favourable public opinion not to be a new official condition before countries join the EU (British victory)

There's nothing wrong with a cheap laugh, but they're missing the point.

Europe's leaders have decided that something, whether it's the old constitution, a new one or a simple treaty, will be back in two years' time.

And next March, there will be a Declaration of Berlin, a new statement of the EU's purpose, to celebrate its 50th birthday.

Imagine that being uncontroversial.

BRITISH APLOMB

Tony Blair was late for the summit, delayed by the Queen's birthday celebrations.

Tony Blair
Deep breath: Tony Blair, arriving late, about to take wrong turning
We'd been told he wouldn't be speaking to us so instead of standing in the little pen by the red carpet we watched from our office just above the VIP entrance.

He looked slightly surprised at the lack of cameras and microphones but didn't miss a beat as he swept round to the right. His entourage sped along in his wake, the back of the pack looking increasing harassed and hurried. The very last man, sweating in an open-necked shirt was actually running to overtake the leader.

The reason soon became apparent. Mr Blair reappeared at the VIP entrance and took the correct entrance on the left, with just as much aplomb and confidence.

WISH LIST

By contrast the other European leaders appear confused, uncertain of their step; but are still doggedly heading in the same old direction. But of course the way ahead is not obvious. There is a basic difficulty - while some countries insist the old constitution is dead, others maintain it is still alive.

But when it comes to many of the constitution's component parts it's a different story. The President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, told Europe's leaders that the constitution was not "an aesthetic whim". Many here think he's right.

Legally, its difficult for the European Union to have more than 27 members without a new treaty. Many think rule changes are needed:

  • On the number of commissioners and how countries vote
  • On whether their should be a single president of the council, rather than countries taking it in turn every six months
  • On whether the person who's currently called the High Representative should be called foreign minister

To put it crudely, many would like to be able to bung as much of this as possible in a new treaty and get away without a referendum.

CONCRETE RESULTS

The EU leaders are united in deciding that something, whether it's called a constitution or a treaty, should be back in two years' time.

Jose Manuel Barroso
Barroso: The process has to be kept alive
As Mr Blair put it: "There's no doubt at all Europe needs new rules."

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "It is important to keep the process alive."

The leaders are agreed that in the meantime they will try to persuade people that the EU helps them in their everyday lives, whether it's by campaigning for cheaper energy or more effective laws to fight crime.

The politicians often call these "concrete results". The problem with this was illustrated when the prime minister's spokesman was asked to give an example of such a concrete result in the energy field. "We are moving towards trying to get an agreed EU position," he waffled.

It also makes you wonder what on earth they thought they were up to for the last 49 years, if it wasn't coming up with policies that benefited people. This desperate attempt to engage is right in a democracy. But it's also a bit like saying to someone: "Our friendship is still important isn't it?" When you have to ask the question, in your heart of hearts you know the answer.

TRANSPARENCY

UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett lost her argument that cameras should only be allowed in at the beginning and end of important ministerial meetings discussing new laws. In the face of overwhelming opposition Britain withdrew the objection, and now cameras will be allowed in all through the meetings.

TURKEY ROW TO COME

The other big debate is about the size of the European Union. There's a weariness and fear about an ever larger EU in many quarters. Turkey in particular worries many.

The French and Austrians had wanted a tough new condition attached to decisions to let new countries join - not just that they were ready to join the EU but the EU was ready to let them in. They wanted public opinion to be an important part of this.

They lost, and instead the Commission will produce a report by the end of the year, defining "absorption capacity".

That will create a big row, but the situation over Turkey may go critical long before that. A dull summit? Only for those who aren't interested in the first place.




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