Reforming the European Union: Realizing the Impossible

By Daniel Finke; Thomas König et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Art of Political Manipulation in the
European Convention

George Tsebelis and Sven-Oliver Proksch

THIS CHAPTER DESCRIBES how the first procedural impossibility of reforming European institutions was removed. In chapters 1 and 2 we argued that the European Convention proposal addressed the high level of policy stability caused by the Treaty of Nice in a meaningful way, and that the Presidency of the European Union (EU) was able to push forward its agenda due to central positional advantages in the revealed bargaining space. This chapter examines how the Convention leadership was able to structure an unprecedented constitutional process to reach a timely and successful outcome.1 Given that even intergovernmental conferences, despite months of preparations, sometimes fail to produce results, the failure of negotiations in the Convention was a distinct possibility. Another realistic possibility would have been an “anarchic” document in which different parts would have reflected the prevalence of different majorities. The reason that the European Convention was able to avoid both these outcomes and produce a constitution was the agenda control exercised by the Praesidium and particularly by the Convention President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was able to produce results through strategic leadership. By this we mean the development and astute use of significant agenda control tools. Understanding that the European Convention was an exceptional event made possible by the combination of a creative, consistent, and overpowering agenda-setting process and the impasse created by the status quo (Treaty of Nice) explains how we came to an EU constitution, and why subsequently it became difficult to move away from this document in the Treaty of Lisbon.

In the history of the EU there have been several summits that ended without results.2 Even the intergovernmental conference following the Eu

1 This chapter is based on George Tsebelis and Sven-Oliver Proksch, “The Art of Political Manipulation in the European Convention,” Journal of Common Market Studies 45, no. 1 (2007): 157–86. We thank Wiley-Blackwell for their permission to reproduce the study.

2 For example, the European Council failed to make a deal over the EU’s long-term budget at the Union summit in June 2005.

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