After an enjoyable dinner at the aptly-named Europa Hotel at Gatwick, Michael Siebert, deputy head of the Political Section at the German Embassy, treated us to the insider’s view of the German Presidency of the EU, just handed over to the Portuguese.
This was an up-beat assessment of their watch. Expectations were not just fulfilled, they were surpassed, having originally hoped to get only as far as a road map for a new Treaty. In fact the feeling now is that, with the new Treaty – hopefully to be signed this year, ratified next year and implemented in 2009, the EU is out of the institutional cul de sac and re-energised.
Euro-projects Michael Siebert noted the euro-projects where progress has been made over the past six months, and where the restored ability to act will see more progress ahead.
|Climate and energy policies, (where the spring Council meeting decisions, going for a low-carbon economy and pledging to reduce emissions by 20%, tie in with the wider international debate with G8, US and UN);|
|a few steps made in the Lisbon Agenda to liberalise more markets, though no progress in the Doha Round;|
|mobile phone prices – and a reminder that low-cost flights, much appreciated in this country, would not be possible without the EU;|
|increased police co-operation, protecting citizens’ rights.|
Foreign policy Touching on foreign policy areas, the difficult relations with Russia were noted, though partnership is obviously in everyone’s interests. The need for an early warning system for energy crises, and the problems of Polish meat exports to Russia have been handed on to the Portuguese. No real progress in the ongoing major crises, Kosova, the Middle East and Iran has been possible, but at least no new ones have arisen.
Enlargement Romania and Bulgaria were welcomed in at the beginning of the six months. 7 new chapters have been opened with Croatia, likely to become a member before too long. Germany, with her borders far closer, is less enthusiastic than the UK over enlargement, and Angela Merkel’s party is certainly not in favour of Turkey’s membership, but the process has been kept on track with 3 new chapters opened.
The Reform Treaty Looking at the Reform Treaty in more detail, Michael Siebert noted that there was something for everyone.
|For Germany, the substance was retained; for the UK the red lines were respected with no transfer of sovereignty and hopefully they will ratify; for the Poles it was not a complete success but over time it should work out.|
|Despite the irrational feeling in the British public and press that we will be “governed by Brussels”, transfer of competence was not the issue. The main content of the charter is already present in existing legislation.|
|The treaty is to be judged on whether it makes the EU more democratic, more efficient and more transparent. The latter is the more difficult to identify, but with voting for a President, co-decision-making, more scrutiny of legislative acts by the EU and national parliaments, possible transfer of competences to national level and participatory democracy (1 million signatures from European citizens), greater democracy is assured.|
|Greater efficiency will come from the newly created post of a President of the Council, the identification of the voice of agreed policy for the outside world – the Foreign Minister by another name – and the reduction of the Commission from 27 to 15.|
Optimism The hope is that we are now out of the doom and gloom era of European politics. Opinion polls reflect an upward perception of Europe. This is not just the result of the German Presidency. There are new leaders in place, there is an economic upswing – a real window of opportunity to bring this period of reflection to an end.
Notes on Michael Siebert’s talk contributed by Margaret Tuccori
11 July 2007
Michael Siebert also took part in an event jointly organised by the Federal Trust and Chatham House a few days earlier on 5 July. Brief notes from that discussion can be downloaded here:
The German Presidency: Marks out of Ten? (Word)