A Big Problem?

Just a brief query: Can anyone think of the last time one of the big four countries in the EU — Germany, France, Britain, Italy — had a successful presidency of the Union?

It looks like the UK’s turn at the top will end without a budget agreement, which is fine for Blair’s domestic politics, but not so good for running the 25-country EU. Italy’s last run was marred by an initial spat between Berlusconi’s government and the European Parliament and never really got back into gear. Germany’s last presidency, back in ’99, featured the resignation of the Commission, the resignation of Germany’s finance minister and the war in Kosovo. The French presidency in 2000 ended with the summit in Nice, one of the least productive EU summits in memory. (EU mandarins from Central Europe still haven’t forgotten how Chirac gratuitously slighted them at Nice, setting the tone for his approach to enlargement.)

Breakthroughs seem to come during the presidencies of smaller countries. In recent years, think Ireland and Denmark. In the interests of better governance, maybe the Union should ban big countries from holding the presidency?

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

11 thoughts on “A Big Problem?

  1. I have always though that the presidency was an odd institutional mechanism. Governance in the European union is already a theoretical behemoth and I will no go in to that here.

    It will suffice to say one thing about governance in the European which even the presidency’s idea of shared governance cannot do anything about …

    Why do all major decisions have to be unanimous? Perhaps it is prerequitsite for the Union perhaps not? Is qualified majority a solution? I don’t know … But reconciling 25 countries’ interests is not easy and this is a fact … Just call and ask Mr. Blair :).

  2. Unanimous decision making is not so difficult. You just have to negotiate over a many decisions instead on each decision seperately. It is also how big money decisions should be taken otherwise the Union would simply decide to take it away from the British.

  3. “It looks like the UK’s turn at the top will end without a budget agreement,”

    Never say never.

    European Union leaders agreed early Saturday on a seven-year spending plan for the 25-nation bloc — a hard-won deal seen as key to shaping the future of an enlarged EU and to restoring faith in its unity.

    The blueprint offered by British Prime Minister
    Tony Blair slashes Britain’s EU budget rebate by $12.6 billion over seven years — money now slated to boost economic development in the EU’s 10 new member states across eastern and central Europe.

    In return, the EU countries — crucially France — agreed to a spending review in 2008-09 that could lead to new cuts in the EU’s agricultural subsidies.

    Of course whether this mean the UK has had a ‘successful presidency’ or not is another issue. I certainly don’t see this agreement as a ‘key to shaping the EU future’. It seems like the UK just bought some time (12.6$ billion worth) and that the real debate will be in 2008-09 (meanwhile, of course, what happens to the Doha round?).

    At the end of the day my feeling is that far and away the most important outcome of this UK presidency will be the fact that negotiations were opened with Turkey. Incidentally, the news on the Orhan Pamuk front doesn’t seem too bad:

    The Istanbul court trying prominent Turkish author Orhan Pamuk on charges of insulting the Turkish nation suspended the trial until February 7 pending authorisation to proceed from the justice ministry.

    The court had ruled on December 2 that since the alleged offence was committed before Turkey amended its penal code earlier this year, Pamuk should be judged under the old law, which requires a direct order from the justice ministry for the trial to proceed.

    With Justice Minister Cemil Cicek saying in remarks published Friday that he still had not received the prosecution file, the court was forced to suspend the trial until the ministry reaches a decision on whether to try Pamuk or not.

    Hopefully the Turkish justice ministry will now take the decision not to provide the necessary order, the trial will be abandoned and Turkey will move one step nearer to coming out of denial on the Armenian genocide.

  4. It’s not surprising of course that the big countries have more difficulties with their presidency than smaller, less powerful countries. The big countries are a) more tempted to use their power for their own ends and therefore are b) less trusted by the little ones, not to mention that c) the interests of at least three of the four big movers, France/Germany v. UK are diametrically opposed on several key issues, which we’ve seen at play this time.

    In this context, it will be interesting to see what happens when Poland gets the presidency, as that is a country that has put itself forward as very much wanting to be the fifth Big Country in the EU.

  5. France/Germany v. UK are diametrically opposed on several key issues

    I’d argue that you have that backwards. What you are seeing is historical inertia. If Germany could reduce unemployment by giving agriculture the axe, it would with little hesitation.

    fifth Big Country in the EU

    Any Spaniard will tell you that that seat is very firmly occupied.

  6. “Never say never.”

    But where would we be if all of our blog posts were thoughtful and considered? Somebody has to go out on a limb…

  7. At the end of the day my feeling is that far and away the most important outcome of this UK presidency will be the fact that negotiations were opened with Turkey. Incidentally, the news on the Orhan Pamuk front doesn’t seem too bad.

    Wow. The news on Pamuk is that a despicable judicial system is slightly more difficult to use against an extremely famous person.

    Exceptions for high profile cases do not equal reform. They equal public relations.

    and Turkey will move one step nearer to coming out of denial on the Armenian genocide.

    The denial is so closeley tied up with the enire mythology of the creation of a unitary state in Turkey that this is quite unlikley.

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