Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

EU reinvents itself with eye on future


Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


THE latest summit of the now 27-member European Union provided considerable drama, but it can be said that virtually every country went home basically a winner.

The rejection of the EU constitution by the electorates of key charter members France and the Netherlands two years ago had left the organization on the horns of a dilemma. Due to its growth from its original six countries to 27 this year, it had become unwieldy and slow in its operations. This bulkiness had come to seriously constrain the organization's ability to use to advantage its virtually Europe-wide market and relative unity. Put another way, when the vote of the Greek part of the island of Cyprus counts for as much as that of Germany, the world's fourth largest economy, there is a serious problem.

Not that it was particularly a German problem, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel, G-8 chairman and EU president, set herself the task of overcoming some of the problems presented by the non-acceptance of the constitution by France and the Netherlands.

She used a combination of diplomacy, much of it involving the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the threat of an iron fist inside her velvet glove in pushing Poland, supported by newcomers the Czech Republic and Lithuania, to accept a compromise on an issue of apparent importance to them.

Ms. Merkel was the star of the show. An East German, speaking publicly for the most part only in German and a woman in what is visibly a men's club of European heads of government, Ms. Merkel was everywhere, pushing, cajoling, leading the Europeans to do what they clearly needed to do.

Much was achieved at Brussels, but it is important to add that the changes will need to be ratified by the parliaments of the member countries, although no one honestly expects that to be a problem.

In any case, starting seven to 10 years from now - a compromise to placate Poland, backed by the Czech Republic and Lithuania, but nonetheless progress - votes in the EU will be weighted according to population. In other words, France and Malta will no longer have one vote each, which was crazy, as crazy as Wyoming, population 500,000, and New York, population 19 million, each having two votes in the U.S. Senate, for example. Polish President Lech Kaczynski had fought this measure tooth and nail, Ms. Merkel had indicated that she was ready to go ahead without Poland and then Messrs. Sarkozy and Blair rode to the rescue with middle-of-the-night courting of the Poles to obtain agreement.

The United Kingdom went into the fray with "red lines" - subjects in the area of what the British consider to be the sanctity of their institutions on which it would theoretically brook no compromise - but outgoing Mr. Blair made some deals anyway. New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is to don his new apparel today, can blame the deals on Mr. Blair, saying he went soft in the head at Brussels.

Mr. Sarkozy obtained some concessions for France in all the wheeling and dealing. Among the Europeans Mr. Sarkozy is clearly a new, scrambling hustler, standing in contrast to former French President Jacques Chirac, the Rudy Guiliani of European politics.

Poland presented a somewhat rustic profile at the gathering. President Kaczynski argued in all seriousness that it should not be disadvantaged by its smaller population because had it not been battered so badly by Nazi Germany and Russia in World War II its population would now be 66 million, rather than its actual 38 million. Poland presented a brash face, but also had to take into account, in agreeing to compromise, that it benefits from generous EU subsidies.

The EU came out of the summit strengthened in its ability to play alongside the United States on matters such as global warming, world trade, the Middle East peace process, and in dealing with a resurgent Russia. A strong EU remains to America's advantage.

The parallel is not perfect in any sense, but the picture of the EU's important members and leaders compromising after vigorous discussion to reach agreement on critical issues stands in vivid contrast to the spectacle of the U.S. Congress, tied in knots and unable to reach agreement with the Bush Administration on matters ranging from immigration, to energy, to where America should be going in the Iraq war. Tell us, then, exactly, which is the Old World and which the New?

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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