He Who Pays the Piper

My Bulgarian ‘assistant’ still won’t let me forget Chirac’s last faux pas: that the biggest favour the candidate countries could do for themselves was to stay quiet. It looks like we’re going down the same road one more time. I really don’t think it is possible to effectively ‘buy’ opinions. I mean in the short term it may work as a tactic, but long term this will lead to more, not less, resentment and tension. I already feel that the Swedish euro vote was more a political statement than an economic one. The Netherlands are getting louder and louder in their denunciation of stability pact ‘flexibility’, and now the aid-recipients are effectively being told to put up and shut up. This is not a very auspicious start for a new constitution, nor does it offer a very encouraging insight into how it might work.

Germany and France have issued a thinly-veiled warning to Spain and Poland that they risk losing billions of euros of European Union aid if they disrupt talks on a new EU constitution. The tough message came as 25 European leaders began negotiations in Rome on the new constitutional treaty, which they hope to agree by December. The biggest obstacle to a deal is the insistence by Spain and Poland that they should wield similar voting power to larger countries, such as Germany.

Jos? Mar?a Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, and Leszek Miller, his Polish counterpart, made it clear on Saturday that they would not accept any treaty which reduced their influence. Their position has infuriated Gerhard Schr?der of Germany and Jacques Chirac of France, who both support the draft treaty drawn up last June by Val?ry Giscard d’Estaing’s European Convention. Mr Schroder and Mr Chirac used identical words to connect the treaty negotiations and next year’s debate on future EU funding: “Of course there’s a link,” they both told reporters.
Source: Financial Times

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

15 thoughts on “He Who Pays the Piper

  1. The funny thing is that they all have very valid points.
    It clearly isn’t in the interests of Poland and Spain to lose voting power in the Council, so they would obviously want to defend the status quo.
    Against that, why should the Germans have to cough up to fund countries which oppose them when Poland and Spain, which even combined have less than Germany’s population, have almost double Germany’s voting weight within the council?

  2. I don’t know. I think there is a lot of positioning going on right now before the final negotiations. Possible issue dimensions for sealing a deal are explored. Apparently, Spain and Poland believe they can stage a hold-up and drive up the price for their agreement. In the end, they, as much as everyone else know the basic rules of arithmetrics. There will be side payments and possible more institutional safeguards, but demographic logic will prevail.

  3. “demographic logic will prevail.”

    I don’t doubt Tobias that you are right, it’s the way the two issues are so openly connected that I don’t particularly like. That, and the fact that the French and German governments don’t seem to give too much importance to how their actions are perceived. This can become more important with the passage of time.

    And, of course, I’m not suggesting that the Polish and Spanish positions are especially idealistic either.

  4. To paraphrase Woody Allen: “More than at any time in history the EU faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

    Just kidding, of course. But coming up with a constitution that will be palatable to a majority of the electorate in each country where it will be subject to a referendum will be tricky indeed.

  5. Democracy is about the Majority handicaping itself politically against the Minority so that the Minority has some stake in the political process, as the Majority would rather fight political battles than actual ones.

    It is precisely because there is a demographic logic that the smaller states are compelled to fight for an unequal balance of power, even at the risk of losing what they have gained thus far.

  6. Par for the course for Chirac’s negotiating style. (See also, Nice summit 2000; disagreements about Iraq, 2003.) And you thought unilaterlaism was an American word…

  7. I agree with Greg: this is part of the negotiating process. You should not compare it with the arrogant remarks of Chirac on the Polish attitude towards Iraq.
    In the meantime I share your concern about the European project.
    At the heart of this kind of problems in my opinion is the fact that European presidents and prime-ministers have to much power: in this respect their position is similar to that of party leaders in their respective parties. Where they speak on behalf of their country (as if the country as a whole has similar interests on all issues!) inevitably they tend to polarization. For the renewal of democratic politics in general in my opinion it’s necessary that the role of political parties is diminished in favor of independent politicians. To avoid populism and demagogy it’s crucial that the voting system is changed toward more indirect elections.
    For a sound future of European politics it’s vital that regions and interest groups speak out and debate with likeminded as well as opposing groups in the rest of Europe independent from their government leaders.

  8. Edward, if you’ll have a look at this article in Le Monde (translated and discussed on Eurosavant) you’ll see that Poland itself started with “roughing” the negotiation style for that specific matter. Anybody who has followed the Copenhagen summit knows that the Polish way of negotiation includes sky-high expectations and demands and an “all-or-nothing” attitude that tends to complicate things. That irritates a lot of people in the EU – well beyond Berlin and Paris.

    I dare offering a variation of your statement: ?I don?t like the fact that the Polish governments doesn’t seem to give too much importance to how its actions are perceived. This can become more important with the passage of time.? Poland is developing a reputation for being a pain in the a**, if you know what I mean.

    Le Monde http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-3214,36-336339,0.html
    Eurosavant http://www.eurosavant.com/comments.php?id=138_0_1_0_C

  9. Actually, Poland and Spain are doing a great service for the rest of Europe. It’s become clear that the EU was seen by the French and the Germans as a means to enhance their primacy within Europe, at the expense of all the rest of Europe. In fact, we could speak of a Franco-German Conspiracy in regards to that. It is obvious that their leadership cannot be trusted to speak for all of Europe, and they’ve certainly behaved in a manner that doesn’t inspire confidence in their abilities to represent the European ideal in the future.

  10. Markku, you’ve already outed yourself as a troll and now you admit being a conspiracy theorist. Why don’t you get your own blog instead of saturating this fine site with your rubbish? No, it’s not a question, it’s not even a suggestion – this is a humble and pressing plea.

  11. Chris K: Your reaction is so very typical to European media in general: silence the dissident voice, for the sake of media consensus. No wonder Europe got a completely distorted picture of the Iraqi War…

    As to a fine site, – I doubt that any blog site which is incapable of tolerating strong dissent could be called a fine blog site.

    But isn’t that what passes for “discourse” in European affairs, anyway? It’s all about continent-wide pats-on-the-back and mutual compliments… sort of what cocktail parties for diplomats must be like at Brussels. The worst one can do is disturb the status quo… a status quo which, of course, seems to favor the Franco-German Conspiracy.

  12. I think Mr. Nordstrom’s comments are interesting and informative. Censuring him would be wrong.

  13. alter_id ?of Markku?,

    the shorter Markku Nordstrom:
    The Europeans hate the USA.
    The Europeans freeload on the USA.
    Anything the Europeans may do by themselves is a menace to the USA.


  14. Anne S, who talked of censorship? You can rest assured Markku will keep enlightening us all about the big bad worldwide anti-american conspiracy. I just tried to appeal to his decency.

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