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Opinion: An Unwanted Renaissance

European Union leaders are scheduled to vote on a new constitution this weekend. But many signs point to failure this time around, since the lesson's of Nice have apparently been forgotten.


Slowly but surely people are beginning to feel the nervousness that’s sweeping through Europe’s capital. Will this weekend’s summit be successful? Will heads of state and government from 25 countries be able to agree on a common European constitution?

Will the meeting that starts on Friday be a great success or a compromise based on the lowest common denominator? Will the draft constitution be ripped apart down to the last detail -- or will the document’s main ideas be preserved? Who will emerge as the summit’s victor?

The convent that devised the draft constitution? Spain and Portugal, who want to push through their voting rights at any rate? France, Germany and others, who want to preserve the draft as it is? So many questions, but this time there's hardly any of the usual optimism of Brussels’ political scene.

The logic of diplomats

The few realists and optimists believe there’s a 50 percent chance of success. The others are pessimistic despite knowing that playing poker is as much a part of the dramaturgy of such a difficult summit as apocalyptic invocation of failure (this category’s master is German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer), calm manoeuvring (Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is unsurpassed) or tough and tenacious insistence (Spain and Portugal being the champs). If the summit cannot fail, then success can’t be triumph, as the logic of diplomats goes.

Still, somehow this summit isn’t panning out the way it’s supposed to. And here is why: When heads of state and government finally found the answers to questions regarding reasonable and efficient governance of an EU of 25 nations after agonizing over gruelling hours, days and nights during the 2000 Nice Summit, everyone knew that the outcome was bad and it couldn’t go on like that.

That’s why it was already decided in Nice to summon a convent that would draft a constitution to guarantee the EU’s democratic legitimacy and its capacity to act.

The essentials of political mathematics

So far, so good. More than 100 parliamentarians and government officials took on the task, debating for more than a year under the authoritarian leadership of Giscard d’Estaing in order to make history in the end by drafting the first European constitution.

Gruppenbild EU Konvent

After their last meeting in July, convent members, including Joschka Fischer, were still smiling.

The document was presented, deservedly applauded, justifiably criticized (for not being ambitious enough.) Then it was talked to pieces by current and future member states. They haggled like they were buying a horse at the market. Suddenly the convent’s compromises were no longer there.

Suddenly Nice was once again the end all, be all, of European political mathematics. In short: The convent was followed by a return to Nice. It showed that the lessons from Nice had been forgotten, that everyone’s back to taking care of their own domestic issues. We cannot give up our EU commissioner, said one group. We need as much political weight as promised to us in Nice, said another.

The European foreign minister? That’s great, but we won’t call him that. Majority decisions? Sure – but not in this, that and the other area. And whart about an EU council president to create some continuity? Great, but we’ll throw in some team presidents on the side. Basically everything the convent settled after gruelling discussion is back on the table, including the constitution itself.

There’s a storm brewing in Brussels and the fathers of the constitution have to watch helplessly as their work is talked and fought to pieces. That’s how Brussels is experiencing something nobody thought was going to happen: The renaissance of Nice.

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