By its very nature, the European Union has always been and always will be a forum for constructive negotiation. It could not function any other way, since it is composed of nation-states and possesses a decision-making mechanism based chiefly on intergovernmental agreement. Hard bargaining is a key component of the Union decision-making process, but there are limits; otherwise, the case for unification would have long since been abandoned. Let us hope that this basic element was respected at this week’s summit. Europe has not yet recovered from the double rejection of the European Constitution by the Netherlands and France, and so a breakdown of negotiations over the budget would only intensify the climate of crisis. The rich member states’ persistent refusal to accept an increase in the European Union’s own budget (they pay out more than they receive from EU funds) is not just an affirmation of their national ego. It is also a display of political inconsistency, since it was mainly these countries that championed the decision to carry out the recent enlargement to 25 members. An increase in the EU’s own budget clearly means that the richer countries will be paying out more. If they were opposed to that, they should at least have abided by their decision and taken a harder line on enlargement. Instead they summarily approved the accession of 10 new member states where average per capita incomes are far lower than the EU average. In addition, they have begun accession proceedings for even poorer countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and even Turkey. It is precisely these contrasts that have undermined the argument for unification.The major countries cannot refuse to pay for their own decisions. The annual rebates to Britain were agreed upon in 1984, when that country was in the middle of an economic recession. Now it is economically powerful, so it can no longer invoke a special measure that under current circumstances seems more like an outrageous privilege. The same applies to the fact that France receives the lion’s share of farm subsidies. As always, leaders will do what they can to obtain the greatest possible benefits for their respective countries. That is only natural. However, when they barricade themselves behind their national interests the result is catastrophic for Europe and in the end, for its component parts as well.

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