The EU foreign ministers meet for the last time this year, but the usual end-of-year praise will likely be trumped by dissatisfaction over Britain's presidency.
Blair is likely to attract flak as the year comes to an end
Three days before EU heads of state meet for a summit to decide on a budget for 2007 to 2013, Britain, which held the EU presidency this past calendar year, still hasn't come up with an acceptable concept to bring to the negotiating table.
On the contrary, diplomats are still waiting on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's promised suggestion. This means EU foreign ministers, who were gathered Monday to begin preparations for the summit that will take place on Dec. 15 and 16, have something of an empty agenda, with little to discuss.
Germany's Steinmeier wants to focus on the EU constitution
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has put pressure on the gathering to at least come up with a time frame for further "reflection" on the EU constitutional crisis. The British presidency has simply disregarded the constitution topic, and "made a mess of it," according to one EU worker, who spoke off the record. In general, the British had to "be pushed to engage" with any important topics, an EU diplomat said.
A constitutional crisis?
The ratification process for the constitution was put on ice by EU leaders in June following a rejection of the new treaty by French and Dutch voters. Since the text of the constitution itself can not be changed and a second round of referenda on the same text is unlikely, the EU finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
A solution must be found by next summer; in autumn 2006 at the latest, the EU Council -- the heads of state who make up the union's main decision-making body -- must officially decide on the constitution's future.
Illegal immigration from Africa is a growing problem for the EU
On the foreign-policy agendy, Monday's meeting is expected to recommend that Macedonia -- previously a part of Yugoslavia -- be allowed candidacy status for acceptance into the European Union. However, the council of ministers is expected to make it clear that concrete negotiations over EU entry are still far off, and that no specific date can be named.
In a related topic, a number of member states have requested earnest debate over the future expansion plans of the current 25-member bloc, which many feel is admitting new members far too quickly. What the Union really needs is a consolidation phase, many diplomats say.
Fighting poverty in Africa
Also on Monday, foreign ministers are expected to adopt an overall strategy for EU relations with Africa. Ministers agree that the neighboring continent needs more attention; the goal is long-term development and economic partnership, if only as a means of staunching the flow of illegal refugees to Europe. The European Union wants to enter a strategic partnership with all of Africa's approximately 50 states, in order to reach the EU millennium goals of fighting poverty by 2015.
The foreign ministers are also very likely to vehemently reject the latest comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last week, he questioned the veracity of the Holocaust and suggested moving the state of Israel to Germany or Austria. There are no signs of progress when it comes to reanimating talks between the EU and Iran over the latter's atomic program.