The leaders of France and Germany have reached agreement on how power should be distributed within a reformed and enlarged European Union. Their proposal, which will now be sent to the current Convention on the Future of Europe, envisages powerful heads for both the European Commission and the European Council. But would such a duality of power create difficulties in running the EU?
Prague, 15 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's two most powerful members, Germany and France, have adopted a unified vision of how an enlarged EU should be run.
Over dinner in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder agreed to what amounts to a dual presidency for the EU. They proposed that there should be two powerful offices: the president of the European Commission and the president of the Council of Ministers.
The European Commission (EC) is the centralized authority of the EU and, therefore, a strong EC represents the integrationist trend in Europe. By contrast, the Council of Ministers consists of the member states sitting in conclave and thus represents member states' rights.
The agreement represents a fusion of what had previously been two different outlooks. Schroeder favored further European integration, while Chirac has been concerned about preserving members' rights against a powerful center.
Chirac explained the compromise to journalists last night: "In this spirit [of cooperation], France accepted that the president of the commission be elected by the European Parliament, and Germany accepted that the European Council [Council of Ministers] is chaired by a president elected by the European Council with a qualified majority for a duration of 2 1/2 years or five years."
The reference to the European Parliament is important, because it addresses the question of the EU's democratic credentials. At present, the head of the EC is appointed by member states. The new arrangement would also mean the end of the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, under which each member country takes a turn at the helm.
The Chirac-Schroeder proposal is to be sent today to the current Convention on the Future of Europe, which under the chairmanship of former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing is drawing up an EU constitution.
As it comes from the EU's two most powerful members, there is a good chance that the proposal will be accepted as the basis for the convention's recommendations, which are to be ready by mid-year.
But the problem is, can a dual presidency offer clear leadership, or will it be bedeviled by rivalries between the two strong personalities likely to fill those offices?
Independent Belgian-based analyst Stefan Maarteel does not find the compromise a good one. "That could be very chaotic. It could become very difficult to make decisions, and there would always, I think, be this tension between the two institutions," he said. Maarteel said he expects much opposition to the proposal at the constitutional convention, not least from Britain, which will not be pleased at being left out of any decision making.
In Bonn, analyst Peter Zervakis of the ZEI think tank is also concerned at what he sees as a hasty compromise. "I think [Chirac and Schroeder] were forced more or less to present something for the German-French public now, due to the celebration of the Elysee treaty," Zervakis said. That's the German-French accord on partnership and amity, which is a cornerstone of the EU. It is now 40 years old.
Zervakis said that, in addition, he believes the president of the Council of Ministers will end up more or less as a subordinated secretary of the EC president. He said that's because he does not believe the heads of state and government from the member states will want a strong and challenging personality in that job.
In Bolzano, Italy, analyst Gabriel von Toggenburg of the European Academy had some positive remarks to make: "It's good that with this kind of aggressive proposal, as you might call it, debate about the institutional structure [of the EU] gets under way, because as you might know, for a longer time than one initially thought, there has been complete silence in the [proceedings of] the European Convention [on this], and the working groups did not touch this topic."
Toggenburg also said there's little need for excitement about the Franco-German proposal. He said that if it survives intact into the draft constitution, it must still be submitted to a special intergovernmental conference for approval next year.