Major compromises are in the making for Europe’s institutions

In little over a week’s time, the Greek presidency of the European Union will be holding its Thessaloniki summit. Any forecasts regarding the outcome of the debate on institutional changes within the EU would be premature to say the least. The latest compromise proposals announced by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who has led the preparation of a draft constitution, essentially postpone any solutions on major divisive issues until 2009. This development confirms the strong pressure brought to bear in the past few days by most EU delegations, which have threatened to block any developments in Halkidiki which would be against their own interests. Nevertheless, there is still a chance of heated debate at the summit, and d’Estaing has not yet completed the final draft of his report, something that is worrying the government and Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The last thing Simitis wants at this critical period is a public confrontation between EU leaders during what is virtually the last act of the Greek presidency. D’Estaing’s amended proposals are generally acceptable to the 16 smaller member states, including Austria, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal as well as the 10 new member states. Their main concern is to maintain the current status quo (that is, the Treaty of Nice) in order to preserve the practice of rotating the presidency among members, as well as equal representation on the European Commission. According to latest reports, these two demands will most likely be met – by virtue of postponing any decision on them at least until 2009. At the same time, however, there is still no decision on whether to establish the post of a permanent presidency of the European Council, as the Franco-German bloc would like. A compromise formula has been proposed that would have the post covered during an initial phase by the president of the European Commission. The question still dividing both smaller and larger member states is the way this «super-president» would be chosen and above all, the powers that he or she would have. The presence of an all-powerful politician at the head of the European Union is the goal, for obvious reasons, of the EU’s more powerful members, with the support of Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and lately, Greece as well. This seems strange, since both Paris and Berlin are keen to review the voting process in the Union’s decision-making procedures, something that is directly opposed to the interests of the smaller countries as well as that of Britain and Spain, which last week in fact aligned themselves with the smaller members. The Greek presidency has been reassured by the fact that the coming summit will not be required to reach final decisions, but merely to decide on the opening and closing dates of the Intergovernmental Conference, to which the decision on the institutional issue will be referred. So the prime minister will obviously want to keep any disagreements that occur behind closed doors and out of the spotlight, so that the Greek presidency will be able to close in a climate of harmony and unanimity – at least to all appearances.

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