The EU's treaty of idiocy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, wearily - but clearly relieved - claimed after two sleepless nights of negotiations: 'We have achieved what we set out to do. This shows that Europe came together at the end.' She was celebrating agreement among the 27 member states of the European Union on a new draft treaty.

However, the reality remains that the EU is a patchwork. Someone has to show, and soon, a spark of imagination if 'Europe' is to find its true potential, for the sake of it and the rest of the world.

Dr Merkel deserves praise for her impressive ability in getting the 26 other querulous European heads of government to forge an agreement: it was a personal triumph for her to be the ringmaster of a deal when the learned pundits had been shaking their heads saying that the British, the Dutch, the French and the Poles would never agree. The leaders produced a new outline treaty for the 493 million people who live in the EU.

But the deal may crumble when the leaders take it home and their parliaments pick apart the details.

On paper, the EU would be the third most-populous country in the world (if it were a country). With 4.32 million sq km of land, it would be the seventh-biggest in the world, with a combined gross national product estimated by the International Monetary Fund at almost US$14 trillion last year - the largest in the world. However, there is no European state.

The 'Europe' that the 27 leaders were talking about is still what is left over when national governments have protected and squeezed out their special interests.

Indeed, from the point of view of the rest of the world, the EU often seems a device for the old colonialists to get an extra voice in global discussions.

The infamous Group of Eight meetings, which give four seats to EU members but none to China or India, normally add an extra chair for the president of the European Commission to join their discussions.

At the World Trade Organisation, the EU commissioner negotiates on behalf of all Europeans, but is endlessly buffeted by individual states telling him what they want and what they will not put up with. He is then buffeted another 27 times, and told that he has crossed the line and conceded too much.

Even so, opponents who fear that a pan-European ideal- or a federal Europe - will squash their cherished national cultures and traditions, believe that last week's draft in Brussels went too far. Supporters, on the other hand, say a great deal was reached. Instead of a rotating EU presidency, under which each country chairs the union for six months every 131/2 years, there will be a European president chosen for 21/2 years.

Also, instead of 27 commissioners - one from each member state - from 2014, the number of commissioners will be equal to two-thirds of member states; the countries represented will be changed every five years.

And, from 2014, decisions will be taken by double majority, and will need the support of 55 per cent of member states representing 65 per cent of the EU's population. The national veto, however, will be maintained in sensitive areas such as foreign affairs, defence and taxation. The EU will not have a foreign minister, as was originally planned, but will have a 'high representative' for foreign affairs and security.

The problem with Europe is that it has become captive, on the one hand, to small - and too often small-minded - sectional interests and, on the other hand, to a bloated European bureaucracy that loves standardising rules without understanding the political fallout.

How can you envision a country that has 23 official languages and 15 currencies, even after the creation of the euro?

The real fault of the draft treaty is that it leaves things in the hands of narrow nationalistic politicians.

It is too short a period to have a European president elected for just 2? years. But a European president chosen by the 27 heads of government is a disaster. Giving member states two-thirds of a commissioner each and choosing them by rotation is idiotic.

Tragically, the EU does not practise the democracy that its members enjoin on the rest of the world. Timid first steps to raise the sights towards a European ideal would be to let the European parliament choose the European president, and then accept or reject his or her policies and government.

Look to India. It has a lively democracy - and lively state governments under a national one - and is twice as big, in population terms, as the EU. Yet, it is the states that have acted as a corrupt drag on the Indian boom.

If the grip of Europe's narrow nationalists can be released, then Europe may be able to soar - and the world would be a happier place.

Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator