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EU: Why The Amsterdam Summit Failed

Amsterdam, 18 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - At the start of the European Union's Amsterdam summit meeting two days ago, the President of the EU's Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robles warned the 15 assembled leaders that the draft treaty they were about to examine was a step backward for the Union. Gil-Robles said that the document contained few of the reforms the organization needed to undertake for its planned enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe.

The Spanish Christian Democrat reminded them that a special Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) had been unable for 16 months to agree on fundamental institutional reforms. It was up to the leaders, Gil-Robles concluded, to snatch success out of the jaws of failure through, what he called, "a dazzling breakthrough."

The leaders did nothing of the kind in their two days and one long night of deliberations. Although as much aware as Gil-Robles that the text deferred the most important reforms --in the functions of institutions and in voting procedures-- until expansion actually begins early in the next century, they found no way of reaching agreement on problems their foreign and junior ministers had wrestled with unsuccessfully since March of last year.

Instead of toughening the draft presented to them by the EU's Dutch Presidency, they actually weakened it further by trading off deals in a straightforward national quid-pro-quo fashion.

Britain got a mention of its fishing rights in seas also trawled by Spain and Portugal, perhaps as a reward for Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair's more constructive posture toward the EU than that of his conservative predecessor. France, beset by the highest jobless rate in any major Western nation (12..8 percent), got an expanded text on the EU's need to reduce its overall double-digit (10.8 percent) employment. That was at least partly to compensate Paris for giving up its request to reduce the organization's 20 present Executive commissioners by half. In the event, the summit typically ended up putting off the issue for years to come.

This was blatant national politics among dis-unified nations, not the multi-lateral cooperation and unity called for five years ago in the Maastricht Treaty that created the Union out the European Community.

Dubbed "Maastricht Two" early on, the Amsterdam meeting put off all basic changes for years to come, making a Maastricht Three likely about 2002. The EU leaders knew that, as Gil-Robles had reminded them, there was little, if any, collective will toward further internal integration of the Union. The watered-down treaty that emerged in the wee hours this morning reflected what they had come to accept as a fact of life.

There are at least four major reasons for that critical lack of collective will. To begin with, Maastricht's difficult ratification process early in the decade woke EU peoples up to the fact they were about to lose some of their national sovereignty --and, many feared, their national identities.

Ever since, EU politicians have been wary of further integration for fear of a backlash at home. Second, and during the same period, most Union members have suffered through recession, slow economic growth and rising joblessness. An increasing number of citizens blame this on the EU and its coming Economic Monetary Union (EMU) --wrongly, say most analysts, but nonetheless fervently.

Third, the intense drive by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other EU integrationists to launch EMU and its single currency on schedule in 18 months also left little energy to devote to pushing concrete reform measures. This fact was incarnated at the summit by the first day of its meetings being completely overshadowed by a Franco-German dispute that threatened to derail EMU.

Last, but far from least, the Franco-German partnership, for long the chief EU impetus for integrationist progress, has fallen apart. Candid officials of both countries now admit that the relation, always a marriage of convenience rather than of the heart, has now reached its lowest point in four decades --and still could get worse.. And the more France and Germany fail to work together and pursue their individual agendas, the easier it is for the other 13 to push their individual needs.

Given all that, leaders like Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac gave up months ago believing the IGC would produce anything worthwhile and opted for a minimalist treaty, That, they reasoned, would at least not get in the way of EMU's successful, on-time birth. It was no secret either, since Kohl's slip-of-tongue last year when he talked of the necessity for a Maastricht Three and even Four, that they expected little of Amsterdam.

The document agreed upon this morning offered only one significant step forward. The Amsterdam Treaty will allow the EU to fulfill its pledge to begin membership negotiations with some of the 10 candidate nations from Central and Eastern Europe early next year. But it cannot be heartening to officials in the East to know that unity in the Union continues to diminish, and that none of reforms needed to ease their way to membership have been enacted.

In nine days (June 27), there will be a second Amsterdam summit. There, EU leaders will report on the Amsterdam Treaty to their counterparts from candidate states, which will include Cyprus and perhaps Turkey as well as the Eastern nations.

The EU will no doubt put the accent on the positive, but Eastern officials read objective press reports as much as their Western colleagues. They now know that, while membership talks will get underway on time, they are likely to be complicated by the growing disunity in the Union.

Amsterdam advertises itself as the "city of inspiration." EU leaders showed little of that quality in their decisions here, which represented n-o "dazzling breakthrough." Easterners will have to come to grips, if they haven't as yet, with that fact as well.