Solving the Constitutional Conundrum
Without doubt, the defining element of Germany’s EU Council presidency was the deadlock concerning the European Constitutional Treaty (ECT). In the end, this presidency was widely hailed as a great success—not only by the government itself (which might be expected), but by much of national and international political opinion. This praise seems to us quite justified. In fact, with regard to the constitutional issue Berlin has achieved more than it had originally envisaged and promised. At the end of 2006, the stated goals already seemed ambitious: to preserve the political substance (if not the form) of the ECT and to this end draw a “road map” to provide orientation, process and a time frame for resolving the constitutional conundrum.
Germany forged a compromise which retains most of the substantial reform proposals agreed in 2004, such as a President of the European Council to provide more continuity, extension of qualified majority voting, a legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights and a “High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs” with more competencies and resources than is currently the case. At Polish insistence, the “double majority” rule in Council voting procedures was postponed, but will eventually also be established as agreed in the Draft Treaty. The elements which had to be sacrificed were mostly ones of form and symbolism (the notion of a single text called “Constitution”, explicit references the European flag and anthem, and to the EU’s “Foreign Minister”).
None of this, frankly, matters greatly, as long as the Union now manages to overcome its internal crisis and regain its momentum. Support for the EU among its citizens will likely depend much more on its ability to act in the world than on symbols of a shared political identity. Rather than providing a simple “road map” to a new text, the European Council of June 21/22 agreed on a detailed mandate for another Intergovernmental Conference, to be held in the second half of this year under the Portuguese Council presidency. The 16-page mandate not only contains “orientation, process and a time frame”, but also sets out detailed positions and even concrete wording. As such, it does not leave much more room for substantive renegotiations, and a positive outcome therefore seems all but assured. Evidently, this is much more than the German presidency had originally aimed for. It happened not least because Germany under the Grand Coalition government rediscovered its ability to forge winning coalitions in the EU context.
Now Deal with the Real World’s Problems
Despite all the praise, reforming the EU treaties is not the same as real problem-solving – it is only a precondition for doing so. While the Union has been preoccupied with itself over the past two years, a long list of unresolved European and international problems has accumulated. Under the German Council presidency, EU member states reaffirmed very ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve energy efficiency. This is good news, but what matters now is to implement these goals.
Climate change is only one important reason why the EU needs a common energy policy. Another is the need to thoroughly overhaul and reshape the world’s energy system which presently relies mostly on oil and natural gas, much of it imported from troubled regions; a third reason is the necessity to rebalance the unhinged relationship with Russia. In fact, the EU and its individual member states do not yet quite seem to know how to deal with Moscow. The many-voiced European reactions to the British-Russian dispute over the Litvinenko case is only the most recent example of this.
The list of urgent challenges facing the European Union does not end here. The future of EU enlargement and the Doha Round multilateral trade negotiations talks of the WTO remain unresolved and international conflicts in Kosovo, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iran are waiting to be addressed urgently. In all of these trouble spots, the Europeans have taken themselves to the sidelines or even abandoned earlier leadership roles. The EU will have to assume a higher profile than it did during the past two years if it wants those problems to be managed in a satisfactory way, and to be seen as an international actor to count on. It is now on a good way to leave behind its navel-gazing preoccupation with internal reforms, and deal with the long list of economic and political problems, within and beyond its own borders. This will ultimately be the true benchmark for Berlin’s, and the EU’s success - it is now time to move on.
Hanns W. Maull is the Chair for International Relations at Trier University . Marco Overhaus is project manager of Deutsche-Aussenpolitik.De and a research fellow at Professor Maull’s Chair at the University of Trier
A longer version of this op-ed is available at Deutsche Aussenpolitik: Time to Move on - The European Union after the German Council Presidency
Deutsche Aussenpolitik’s Online Dossier: Balance Sheet of Germany’s EU Council Presidency 2007
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