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EU: Summit Confusion Shows Need For Streamlining

Prague, 15 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A measure of confusion has developed about the staging of a summit of world leaders designed to inaugurate the international Balkans reconstruction effort.

The summit -- which is seen as an important ceremonial occasion -- is set to take place in Sarajevo at the end of this month (July 29/30), with the Bosnia-Herzegovina government as formal host, assisted organizationally by the European Union. The timing and location of the summit were agreed a few weeks ago between U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

But the tight deadline to bring together some 50 leaders from West and East Europe, North America, Japan, Russia, and the international organizations is proving difficult for an overstressed EU bureaucracy. EU officials are struggling to finalize arrangements, and the summit may in fact have to be delayed until a later date.

The problem throws a harsh spotlight on the EU's complicated and often tortuous decision-making process, and the need for a streamlining of its methods.

EU officials say the short notice has made it difficult to establish which leaders can be make it to Sarajevo in time. In addition, there is the logistical and security nightmare of staging a major international conference in the still war-shocked Bosnian capital. An EU team returned from Sarajevo just yesterday (July 14) with the conclusion that holding the conference is technically possible, although difficult.

In view of that conclusion, the EU Council of 15 foreign ministers will now meet on Monday to approve the EU's contribution of $1.5 million to funding the conference. That's only a relatively small sum of money, but EU President Finland notes that established administrative procedures must be followed. Presidency spokesman Reijo Kemppinen says:

"Imagine yourself as a taxpayer. Would you like your civil servants in your own country footing the bill like this without first asking the politicians?"

The price of this slow sequence of events is that the estimated 4,000 politicians, administrative aides, security staff and journalists expected to attend the Sarajevo summit are certain to have a last-minute scramble to get there.

The funding of the conference has an air of mystery about it. A well-informed source within the Council of Ministers staff told RFE/RL today that part of the EU's concern is that it does not want to foot the entire bill for the summit, or what it views as an overly large share of the cost.

The source said that to do so would set a precedent, and would send the wrong signal about how much of the burden of reconstructing Kosovo the EU is willing to bear. The EU expects to be the major payer for reconstruction of Kosovo and also for plans to help the entire Balkan region, but it wants its international partners to assume a proportion of those huge costs.

Official spokesman Kemppinen avoided suggesting there is any dispute. He acknowledged that talks are going on with other countries about paying for the summit, but he says it's only "natural" there are such discussions about "who is paying what."

In any event, the EU machinery has clearly come under strain in organizing the summit at such short notice. This could be an ill omen for the EU's ability to handle the daunting task of organizing Balkans reconstruction. The Kosovo conflict and its aftermath comes at a time when the EU is deeply preoccupied with a complicated and slow expansion process to include 10 Central and East European candidates.

Part of that process also involves a major restructuring of EU internal institutions so as to be able to absorb the new members. In addition to that, the Union is limping along with an outgoing Executive Commission, which resigned under a cloud early this year. The new commission -- led by former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi -- will take office in the autumn with a team mostly lacking experience in EU affairs.

Stanley Crossick is the chairman of the Brussels-based think tank the European Policy Center. He says Prodi's task can be seen as being extremely difficult. But at the same time, he says it contains a great opportunity:

"I have no doubt that Prodi will use all his advocacy skills in taking advantage of the tragedy of Kosovo to demonstrate the need for faster action."

Crossick says that EU affairs will remain a "mess" for as long as the Union's member states see political decisions as their own province at inter-governmental level, and want Brussels, at the center, to deal only with economics.

He says it is essential for EU organs to possess decision-making powers integrated across political and economic spheres as a normal part of their activities.

The EU is now moving toward that, with the choice last month of outgoing NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana to be the EU's first chief of common foreign and security policy.

Crossick sees the Kosovo conflict, therefore, as an opportunity to further integrate the EU and give it a more decisive capacity to act. The coming year will show whether the EU can grasp this opportunity, or whether it will flounder toward paralysis through overload.