EU Constitution ready by 2004
«Cancun failed,» in the words of European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy. However, the European Union managed to appear with strong arguments at the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), thanks, partly, to the Greek presidency’s successful management of agricultural policy issues, George Markopouliotis, head of the EU’s Athens office, told Kathimerini. The interview also dealt with the latest developments concerning the European Constitution and the Greek presidency of the EU during the first half of the year. As Markopouliotis explained, Cancun was, in any case, an intermediate stop to reconsider, and not finalize, the issues of the Doha Development Agenda. The Doha Round began in 2001 and the aim is to conclude it by the end of 2004. Negotiations among almost 150 countries are especially complicated. Participants follow different strategies during negotiations: some are direct while others wait until the last moment to make concessions on a major subject in order to wring as many concessions on other issues as possible, in return. Cancun’s failure by no means can be interpreted as a collapse of the Doha Round, Markopouliotis says. Europe’s aims In the framework of the WTO, the European Union negotiates as a single entity and not on behalf of each individual member. For this reason, it was very important that the Greek presidency had managed to close the chapter on internal reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, allowing Lamy and Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler to appear at Cancun with a clear agenda, as well as clear give-and-take proposals. In the Cancun conference, and the Doha Round, in general, the EU has followed three principles: opening up international markets on the basis of reciprocity; creation of a set of rules for the sectors where such rules do not yet exist (in services, for example); and the combination of those proposals in a way that will favor developing countries. Within this framework, the EU negotiators have been aiming for six clear outcomes: 1. Lower tariffs for industrial products; 2. Protection of location-specific brands (such as feta and ouzo for Greece); 3. More detailed negotiations on services (telecommunications, banking sector, tourism, professions such as engineers, architects and interpreters). The EU places great emphasis on the services sector, where it employs a 100 million people and which accounts for two-thirds of EU’s external trade; 4. Greater priority on environmental protection, not only as a matter of principle but also to prevent unfair competition from countries that produce cheap goods by degrading the environment. 5. Pushing for the so-called «Singapore items,» that is, creating common competition regulations, reducing customs bureaucracy and costs – which, sometimes, add up to 5 percent to the value of a product – greater transparency in public sector procurements and protection of investments; 6. Progress on agriculture. This is the thorniest issue dividing WTO members. «From our side, things are clear,» says Markopouliotis, who reminds us of the EU’s decision to decouple subsidies from production. This will prevent the creation of huge surpluses in certain products. The European Union will have its constitutional document ahead of the elections for the European Parliament, in June 2004. Until very recently, it was not even certain that this charter, which codifies all the previous treaties, would be called a constitution. Things are now going fast: on October 4, the Intergovernmental Conference will begin and is expected to decide on all major pending issues by the end of the year. European integration is a «revolution,» Markopouliotis says, but a peaceful and consensual one. «That is why it has all the hallmarks of success,» he adds. Among the major changes are the ability of citizens to call for the European Commission to legislate on a subject by collecting a million signatures, a greater role for the Parliament and the creation of a Foreign Minister’s position. The Commission has welcomed more changes but has expressed reservations about others: It wants an expansion of decisions taken by simple or qualified majority, one commissioner from each member state, and a more flexible constitutional revision procedure. Greece’s presidency Attempting a review of the Greek presidency, Markopouliotis says that «it was, undoubtedly, one of the most successful presidencies ever.» He bases his estimate on the management of the Iraq crisis and several difficult issues (such as taxation on savings and agriculture reform) that had been blocked for a long time. The future will show, he says, how successful the Greek presidency was in preventing an irreparable rift from opening with the United States.