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EU: Summit's Success Likely To Be Only Minimal

  • Joel Blocker

Amsterdam, 16 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The European Union's summit in Amsterdam, which opened this morning, was originally to concern itself almost entirely with reaching consensus on major internal institutional reforms. EU officials said repeatedly that the reforms were necessary before the Union could make its planned expansion to Central and Eastern Europe, or even begin talks with some of the 10 candidate states from the area. The subject of 16 months of fruitless discussion at an EU Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), the reforms were deemed difficult enough to make the summit a two-day substantive meeting.

The Amsterdam summit was also supposed to ratify an accord on a Growth and Stability Pact for the Union's European Monetary Union (EMU) reached by EU foreign ministers two months ago. This was a German-initiated accord that would extend the strict economic criteria laid down in the five-year-old Maastricht Treaty for joining EMU to those members already admitted in the first wave of entry due in 18 months. Intended to make the new "euro" currency as credible as the German mark is today, the pact's passage would mean continued austerity for EMU members already strapped by their previous efforts to meet the Maastricht standards.

Neither supposition about Amsterdam --dubbed "Maastricht Two" by confident EU leaders months ago-- has turned out to be accurate. According to the last draft of the treaty released by the Dutch EU presidency three days ago, the reforms likely to be agreed upon by EU leaders in Amsterdam are minimal, with many of the big institutional questions left open for a Maastricht Three or Four in the years to come. And ratification of the stability pact has become a huge problem with the election two weeks ago of a Left-wing Government in France. Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin has since pressed hard for the pact's austerity provisions to be softened and matched by an expensive EU program to create jobs in a Union that now has an overall unemployment rate of 11.4 percent. Germany wants neither.

Resolution of the stability-pact dispute between France and Germany and a greater than lip-service treatment of the EU's jobs problem now seem likely to dominate the summit, which as late as last month was supposed to concentrate almost entirely on structural reforms. Ending the Franco-German quarrel won't be easy. On Friday, Chancellor Helmut Kohl met in France both separately and together with Socialist Jospin and with conservative President Jacques Chirac. The result was open discord, marking the first time in recent memory the two countries, for decades the EU's bilateral "motor" of progress, had publicly admitted they were in disagreement on so important an issue.

German officials reiterated yesterday that they would not accept any French-sponsored proposal for a costly EU undertaking to help the Union's 18 million unemployed find work. French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that he was sure the differences between the two countries would be resolved either at a last ditch meeting of EU ministers last night in Amsterdam --it was not-- or at the outset of the summit this morning. That, too, wasn't certain. What was probable, however, was that the Franco-German quarrel over austerity versus job-creation programs would occupy a lot of time at the summit.

Preoccupation with EMU difficulties, in turn, would leave little time for discussion of institutional reforms --appropriate enough for leaders who have already agreed to sidestep the most sensitive issues in the treaty negotiations. The final draft text from the Dutch Presidency calls for the size of the EU's Executive Commission, today made up of 20 commissioners, and the balance of power between big and small EU states in the Council of Ministers to be left unchanged until the first new members actually join. Overall, Maastricht Two represents a far less ambitious blueprint for further integration in Europe than the most federalist countries, led by Germany, hoped for when the IGC began in March of last year.

The new treaty will probably contain EU commitments to open borders, a new Union role in peacekeeping, common asylum and immigration policies and more use of majority voting in decision-making. It will also include a so-called flexibility clause, which will allow groups of countries to integrate faster within the EU framework without having to first obtain the consent of all 15 countries. The potential impact of the clause will be limited by a list of subjects to which it cannot apply but it does, for example, provide a potential framework for Germany to realize its long-cherished ambition of creating a EU-wide equivalent to the U.S.' FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

The move to open borders will likely be achieved by bringing the 1985 Schengen accords into the new treaty, with exemptions for the island-states of Britain and Ireland. The deal would mean that the other 13 EU states will commit themselves to move progressively to common asylum, immigration and visa policies.

The treaty will also give the EU a role in military affairs for the first time by allowing it to ask the Western European Union (WEU) to carry out peacekeeping, humanitarian and crisis-management missions on its behalf. But more ambitious proposals for a gradual merger between the EU and WEU, which would have transformed the Union into a defense organization, appear certain to be blocked by Britain, Denmark and the four neutral EU states (Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden).

All in all, the Amsterdam treaty will add up to a substantial package of reforms --but nowhere near the goals the EU set for itself. Over the years since Maastricht created the Union, the EU has shown itself more disunified than before, with the wind clearly having gone out of its integrationist sails. The reforms the Union judged necessary before it could expand eastward have been postponed until the actual enlargement begins sometime in the 21st century. Its much-vaunted monetary union, seen as the glue that would hold the Union together as it expanded, is now in serious trouble. None of this bodes well for a successful Amsterdam summit --or the rapid entry into the EU of the 10 Central and East European candidate nations.