National self-interest

Any side taking part in a negotiation aims to maximize its gains and minimize its losses. A third element also comes into play, whereby a solution becomes, in itself, mutually beneficial. Hence, despite the conflicting interests, settlements do in fact emerge. This is particularly so in the case of the European Union. After all, European integration is a voluntary enterprise, which can only forge ahead on the basis of compromise. The process, however, entails an incremental and time-consuming procedure. The history of the EU is one of successive clashes and compromises. Governments always expect to get something that will enable them to sell the resulting deal to their people. The EU consists of nation states whose interests and particularities must be respected. The whole enterprise, however, suffers when intergovernmental negotiations get hijacked by national self-interest. Governments often seem to forget that the interests of the broader union spill over to the individual members as well. This time around, at the EU’s Brussels summit, the common interest dictates a generous increase and monitoring of funds. Paradoxically, the wealthy states last year decided to let in 10 new nations whose per capita income lags the EU average, yet they refuse to increase overall funding. And other, still poorer states are waiting in the antechamber. This summit is crucial because major budgetary decisions are expected in the wake of the constitutional debacle. The resounding «no» votes in France and the Netherlands signaled that Brussels should shift away from its usual common-denominator logic. Bargaining won’t go away, but it needs to happen within strategic contours. Europe needs time and a more determined political class. Ironically, only Britain seems to possess a clear political will. Unfortunately, it wants to use it to reduce the union to more or less a free trade zone.