The tension is palpable. Berlusconi, showing his usual tact and restraint, called the summit between Germany, France and the UK a ‘big mess’. He went on to say, ‘Europe doesn’t need a directoire’. Spain didn’t waste any time in following suit, declaring through its Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ana de Palacio, that no country has the right to ‘kidnap the general interest of Europe’.
Europe at the forefront of innovation
However, the three European heavy weights had good reasons for organising such a meeting. After the failure of the Constitution project and differences in opinion over the war in Iraq, and especially because of the current economic slump, Europe needs a boost more than ever. On all these points, the infamous ‘trio’ has mapped out the routes to consider: relaunching the economy by giving the Commission a clear, driving role; assuring the future of the European Constitution; and finally constructing a European policy on defence. The appearance of the UK at the heart of the traditional couple which together made up the EU’s engine, Germany and France, is an important factor: in a Europe of 25 the Franco-German axis will no longer carry as much weight. If the UK joins them, Eurosceptics and supporters of ‘trans-Atlanticism’ can be induced to change their minds. It is impossible to imagine a foreign policy that bypasses the UK; the nation’s success in terms of defence policy confirms this. It has been known for ages that to establish clear and long lasting ties with investors and to relaunch growth, the Commission needs to be endowed with a ‘super Commissioner’ in order to be able to lead a coherent economic policy which is not bogged down in bureaucracy.
It is clear that such progress could only be imagined by an ‘avant garde’ group. 25 Heads of State do not have the same imaginative flexibility as three. And only people with an extremely naïve conception of democracy can see this as dangerous. All healthy democracies foresee this kind of political ‘laboratory’. Often most solutions are only put before Parliament once they have been mapped out and democracy does not suffer at all from this.
Put forward proposals rather than digging your heels in
The meeting between Europe’s three heavy weights must be seen as a opportunity to bring the idea of a constitution based on compromise back to life, and through that to reinforce the democratisation of Europe. As long as Schröder, Chirac and Blair do not secede, why should they be reproached for getting together? They can only put forward proposals, which would only be possibly approved at a later date. And it can only be a question of the creation of a ‘directoire’ if the other countries remain defensive and let the European Constitution project stagnate. Let’s not let ourselves be taken in by Italy and Spain’s sudden infatuation for ‘the general interests of the EU’. Berlusconi, Mr. Incompetent, and Ana de Palacio, whose dogmatism is well known in Brussels, carry much more responsibility for the current bad situation in Europe than Chirac, Schröder or Blair.
Rather than lamenting the power others have, they would be better off getting to work on their own weaknesses, unjamming the breaks, and getting involved in coming up with constructive proposals for Europe. That is how they should react to the challenge launched by Berlin. A little bit of competition is no bad thing.