Bitter quarrels over a new constitution threaten to dim hopes
that an expanding European Union could speak with a stronger common
voice on the international stage.
Spain and upstart EU newcomer Poland have fought hard against
Europe's titans to resist voting reforms that would cut their
influence. The issue could torpedo a two-day summit that opens
Friday in Brussels, designed to pave the way for 10 new members to
join a streamlined union next year.
Failure could tempt the EU's larger founders, such as Germany and
France, to forge their own path independently of their neighbors.
Hints to that effect from Paris and Berlin may be no more than
negotiating bluster, say some analysts. But the pre-summit private
breakfast that the British, German, and French leaders were due to
hold Friday raised questions among smaller EU members fearful of
The mood has been soured by veiled threats by Germany and France
that they would not look favorably on requests for money from Poland
and Spain when the next EU budget is drawn up, if Madrid and Warsaw
continue to block reform of the union's voting system.
Behind the harsh words lie deeper concerns by some of the smaller
EU members, including several Eastern European nations joining next
year, that their voices will be drowned out by their larger and more
powerful neighbors, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy.
Those fears were fueled two weeks ago, when France and Germany
managed to persuade EU finance ministers to let them violate,
without punishment, the 'Stability and Growth Pact' - the rules on
responsible economic behavior that underpin the euro. A number of
ministers felt they had been bullied by the euro zone's two
heavyweights, and recalled how the two countries last year stitched
up a deal on agricultural subsidies between them ahead of an EU
meeting called to debate them.
Piling on the pressure, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said
on a visit to Paris this week that the idea of a Franco-German
union, which some French politicians have proposed as a way forward
should European unity dissolve, was "a vision of the future, perhaps
long-term, but interesting."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned recently against
yielding to Spanish and Polish demands for maintaining a system that
will make it easy with 25 members to create 'blocking minorities' to
forestall action. Such a situation could force countries wanting to
deepen cooperation to act outside the EU framework, he said. "We
will have the opposite of what we want, namely a multispeed EU where
cracks will appear," Mr. Fischer said.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who led the
two-year constitutional convention that drew up a draft charter,
suggested last week that if European heads of government approved a
flawed constitution "I do think we would see the gradual falling
apart of the European Union. …