June 22nd, 2007 05:51 EST
Busy Weekend for EU Leaders
Hardly ever does a political summit gains more media attention than this weekend's European Union conference. Gathered in Brussels, the unofficial capital of the EU, 27 representatives will discuss a number of topics, ranging from human rights to global warming. However, it is neither the decreasing democratic standards in parts of Europe nor the ozone layer that will occupy the minds of EU leaders for the next two days. According to many political analysts, the outcome of this weekend's summit will decide the future of the European Union.
The European Union has made a long way since its predecessor; the European Economic Community was established in 1957. What was first an exclusively economic organization of six neighboring nations has evolved into a strong political body comprising of 27 countries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea. Although the enlargement has set in motion the ossified organization, turning it into the biggest economic market in the world, it also caused many problems of a political matter.
The first major crisis shook the EU in 2005 when France and the Netherlands rejected the European Constitution. The irony was that the document was the brainchild of French politicians, headed by the Republic's former president Valery Giscard d' Estaing, whereas the Dutch government strongly approved the constitution. The opposition stemmed mostly from the vast economic gap between the founder states and the new, post-communist, countries whose citizens were feared to move west in search of better-paid jobs.
The European Constitution was forgotten for almost two years, until Germany took over the EU presidency in January 2007. Chancellor Angela Merkel, painted by media as Europe's last hope, made it her political ambition to convince France and Holland, as well as other member states, that the Constitution must be accepted if the EU were to be a significant player on the world stage. Apart from the much-feared liberalization of the labor market, the Constitution established a post of president and secretary of state who would exercise the common foreign policy.
For many countries, it was too much. The new member states from Central and Eastern Europe, which won independence only 17 years ago, could not accept ceding their powers to a centralized federation that the Constitution would create. Moreover, the document assumed that all decisions would be made by double majority, which favored the four biggest countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy), and revoked the right of veto.
How to count votes is going to be the crucial question of this weekend's summit. Poland appears to be the staunchest adversary of the double majority mechanism and it has already vowed to exercise its right to veto the talks if its demands are not met. Supported by the Czech Republic, Poland is lobbying for the so-called square root system where the strength of a country would be assessed by taking the square root of its population. Even though the Polish proposal has been praised as more democratic than the double majority system, it has been rejected by Germany as jeopardizing the adoption of the Constitution.
Unexpectedly, the summit may be blocked by Great Britain. Traditionally suspicious of the European integration, London has systematically refused to sign Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, explaining that it could override Britain's own law system. Additionally, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his worries about adopting the common foreign policy as a step too far under present conditions.
The only decision made on the first day of the summit was that of Malta and Cyprus joining the Euro-zone in 2008. At a late-night conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, expressed their hopes that an acceptable-for-all-parties compromise could be reached.
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