Money, power still at heart of European Union controversies

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Despite President Chirac's clumsy performance and an attempted revolt by the smaller members, the longest EU summit ever has at least produced agreement on institutional reform. As usual, however, settling the core arguments about influence over EU policy, and thus over money, has been like squaring the circle.

The greater weight given to the big four -- Germany, France, Italy and Britain -- seems appropriate given the privileged voting so far enjoyed by the smaller nations and the fact that more such small nations are likely to join. However, the new voting arrangement is still arbitrary, failing to accurately reflect population size. The big four have agreed to limit themselves to one commissioner each in Brussels, but they have increased their influence where the real decisions are made -- in the Council of Ministers.

Possibly more interesting still is the greater flexibility for some member states to move ahead on cooperation faster than others. A clear statement of the respective powers of the Union and of national governments has moved a step closer. The Nice summit confirms that the development of the EU does not have to lead to a superstate, but that national states still have an important role to play.

--Neue Zuercher Zeitung, Zurich, Switzerland

Dec. 13

Europe's attempt in Nice to revise the contentious rule allowing individual member-states the right to veto was only partly successful. This failure could easily be attributed to strong efforts by the Spanish and British representatives, and also a powerful lobby, though curiously unacknowledged: the governors of the member states' central banks.

The treaty forged in Nice has, nevertheless, paved a way to sidestep the obligations of unanimous consensus. It has reinforced the mechanics of cooperation. This cooperation may work as an instrument for the European countries to, eventually centralize financial policy setting and even controls and regulations for the financial markets.

Perhaps this will create a European commission better inclined toward cooperation and less susceptible to the pressures exerted by individual lobbyists like the central banks.

--Corriere della Sera, Milan, Italy

Dec. 12

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