EU Summit Sets Blueprint for Improved Decision-Making

By Froehlich, Stefan | European Affairs, Summer-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

EU Summit Sets Blueprint for Improved Decision-Making

Froehlich, Stefan, European Affairs

The political credibility and diplomatic prospects of the European Union have distinctly improved with the emergence of a new leading troika in Europe: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest-serving of the three.

This outlook was confirmed by the result of the EU summit ending a crucial six-month German presidency. It was her first such stint. Her leadership, with a somewhat unexpected degree of help from France's Sarkozy and from Britain's Brown (who was watching from the wings as Prime Minister Tony Blair attended his last summit meeting) is credited with Germany's success in a string of international meetings that seemed to narrow gaps among EU states and across the Atlantic. Germany presided over the preparation and conduct of four summits in quick succession in the spring of 2007: the EU's summits with Russia and with the United States and then, in June, a crucial European Union summit followed by the G-8. The combined outcomes showed that Berlin had navigated deals on a group of complicated and contentious issues and obtained some concrete successes. A good example is the deal she negotiated with President George Bush on climate change: it fell short of some people's hopes, but it established a benchmark-basically, an agreement that the problem exists and that a closer consensus about it needs to be sought under the aegis of the United Nations. So if Berlin was unable to solve all the major problems on its watch and even had to sidestep some challenges, it provided leadership of a kind that has been missing in the EU since the constitution's defeat two years ago.

There are grounds for optimism in the aftermath of the summits, especially the EU meeting in Brussels that put a new limited treaty on the rails. Berlin's preference for eschewing grand rhetoric and symbolic goals and concentrating on achievable concrete results has paved the way for the EU to adopt a more effective decision-making machinery. The new system will not take effect right away, but should be fully in place by 2009. That will be the right time. That year the EU changes will be consolidated by European Parliament elections; the White House will have a new U.S. leader; and Russia will have an official successor to President Vladimir Putin. So the EU may meet this rendezvous with history, especially with three powerful (and comparatively young) leaders in place in Berlin, Paris and London. At this juncture, the stars may be in alignment for forward strides both in Europe and in the Transatlantic relationship.

What did the German presidency of the EU achieve? Even if the era is over of great breakthroughs such as Maastricht and the euro, the German presidency in its six months excelled in redefining objectives, setting work plans and timetables and designing frameworks for further negotiation. Besides working through issues on a treaty to replace the abortive European Constitution, Berlin forged a linkage between energy and climate policy. In working up to the EU summit, Berlin strode a politically sensitive line on all the procedural or formal questions and managed to stay focused on the politically feasible in the form of getting 27 leaders started down the road to a "limited treaty"--as Sarkozy first phrased it. Thanks to this approach and Merkel's clear-sighted targeting and persuasive negotiating skills, the EU can throw off a recent image of near-paralysis. Merkel delivered on the essentials. By carefully looking after the interests of big and small member states alike, she engineered a detailed road map for a "reform treaty" that manages to preserve most of the constitution's substance, but water it down enough to satisfy the "Euro-minimalists" in France, the UK and the Netherlands.

Expectations for the German presidency were high, but the result was always bound to be a compromise. One of the summit's biggest hurdles was agreement on a new double-majority voting system. …

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