I don’t know if one day when historians come to examine what exactly happened (or should I say what went wrong) with the EU they will be able to identify that defining moment, the decisive hour, when everything went sailing down the river. If they are so able I wouldn’t mind a quick bet that it might be sometime about now. The ideal of the EU, it seems to me, is being blown away before our very eyes. Maybe the fault is with the politicians, maybe it is with the institutions, maybe it is with all of us: but this cannot be like this. Failure to advance a consensus on reform and the constitution cannot (or at least should not) let us fall back into our old ways of cynical cutting up the cake, power politics and triple alliances. We have, as I have been trying to suggest, a Euro which is about to fall apart between the competing pressures of Northern stringency (the Netherlands) and Southern laxity (Italy), while what is being proposed here will do nothing to help whatsoever.
Britain, France and Germany will meet next month to co-ordinate policy across an unprecedented range of areas, heightening fears among smaller states that the European Union is being dominated by the “big three”.
Less than a year after the Iraq war, the leaders of Europe’s three most powerful nations and senior cabinet ministers – members of the so-called “directorate” – will meet at a summit in Berlin in a striking display of reconciliation.
The February 18 meeting will involve five or six ministers from each country, in addition to the national leaders, covering employment, the economy, education, finance, social affairs and foreign policy, British and German officials said.
Gerhard Schr?der, the German chancellor, Jacques Chirac, the French president, and Tony Blair, UK prime minister, have held several informal get-togethers in recent years but next month’s summit will have a more formal agenda and structure.
The meeting is scheduled to last at least half a day whereas previous meetings usually took an hour or two. The ministers will meet their counterparts in working groups. The foreign ministers are expected to attend the summit dinner.
Jack Straw, UK foreign minister, this month said it was “logical” for the three countries to work together to steer the EU when it expands to 25 members on May 1.
British diplomats believe the Franco-German motor, which traditionally drove the EU, is no longer strong enough to propel a larger union, which includes many Atlanticist countries from central and eastern Europe. Last year the three leaders laid the groundwork for an agreement on a common EU defence policy while their foreign ministers took a joint initiative on Iran.
Last week Franco Frattini, Italian foreign minister, said in reference to the trilateral co-operation: “There can be no directorate, no divisive nucleus that risks putting European integration in danger”.
Diplomats in Berlin admitted there was a danger of “irritation” in other capitals. However, they stressed that the summit would focus on promoting economic reforms in the three countries and was therefore in the interest of the wider EU. They said ministers could be involved in future summits if next month’s event were a success.
Wolfgang Clement, German economy and labour minister, said this week the summit would reinforce recent co-operation between the three countries on strengthening EU industrial policy and on competitiveness initiatives, as part of the EU’s Lisbon agenda of economic priorities.
Two policy papers drawn up jointly late last year by the French and British governments on promoting innovation and enterprise would feed into the discussions, diplomats said.
The papers, seen by the Financial Times, argue for a strengthening of the “innovation action plan” under preparation within the European Commission. The issue of state aid to industry is also expected to be raised, although this remains contentious.
The meeting is expected to prepare common positions for the March EU leaders’ summit, due to focus on economic reforms.
Source Financial Times
When Britain, France and Germany agreed last month to work more closely together on security issues, there was relief among the European Union’s other member states and those about to join the union.
Many had feared that Paris and Berlin were more interested in pursuing their own special relationship at the expense of supporting the EU’s enlargement or reviving the transatlantic relationship.
So it was with some enthusiasm that they greeted London’s move closer to Paris and Berlin on defence, with Britain promising that any “enhanced co-operation” would be inclusive.
One month on, several countries, particularly Italy, Poland and Nordic member states, are watching with mounting concern the opaque working methods of the “Big Three”.
One concern is how they will influence broader issues on future EU foreign policy and whether other countries could be excluded from decision-making. The other concern is that nobody knows quite what agenda Britain, France and Germany are pursuing.
“There is no transparency from the Big Three,” said Janusz Onyskiewicz, director of the Warsaw-based Centre for International Relations in Poland. “Transparency is a must. The EU’s foreign policy has always been based on consensus among all member states. Some issues are being initiated without debate.”
Poland insisted it would not remain passive over how the Big Three made decisions, hoping Italy and Spain would also challenge the London-Paris-Berlin axis, but diplomats say that is unlikely. Jos? Mar?a Aznar, Spain’s prime minister, steps down from the political front line in March after domestic elections and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is not seen as a reliable partner.
But other countries say that does not excuse the Big Three for bypassing Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, on wider policy issues. “If you take a pessimistic view of what the Big Three are doing, it is a slap in the face for Solana,” said a Scandinavian diplomat.
Iran is a case in point. Last year the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany together put pressure on Tehran to accept stringent inspections of nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Italy, in the EU presidency chair, resented being excluded and, even though Mr Solana put a brave face on it, diplomats said he was being undermined. “When the three foreign ministers went to Iran last month, it would not have hurt them to take Solana. It would have given the EU a profile and the pressure on Iran would not have diminished,” said Mr Onyskiewicz.
All three capitals deny they are undermining attempts to build a common EU foreign policy.
Instead, they argue that because the regular meetings of foreign ministers have become almost unmanageable with 25 countries, it has become inevitable that a few capitals should take the lead on some policy issues.
“That’s all very well,” said another Scandinavian diplomat. “But EU countries are not even being informed of the issues or decisions made, just when we are supposed to be finding ways of creating a foreign minister for Europe.”
Source: Financial Times