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Opinion: EU Needs New Direction - And The Big Three Are Giving It

If the EU economy is going to become more dynamic, urgent action is required. The Berlin summit might have angered other member states, but at least Germany, France and Britain mean business, comments DW's Judith Hartl.

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The special relationship between German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac is nothing new. With Germany and France long considered the "motor" of European integration, the two statesmen get together for chats on the future of the European Union on a regular basis. But this week, they were joined by British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- in a meeting that set off alarm bells across the Continent. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was particularly vocal in his criticism of what he sees as a plot by Europe's "big three" to set up a leading EU directorate.

In fact, the leaders of Germany, France and Britain came up with few concrete proposals at their Berlin meeting. The trio began their summit in a reflective mood, pondering how times have changed and referring ominously to the globalized economy of the 21st century -- and brought the meeting to a close by announcing they would be submitting a letter with some suggestions to EU Commission President Romano Prodi.

The letter, they revealed, outlined their proposals for reforms designed to kickstart the EU's ailing economy and strengthen its competitiveness. Nonetheless, the trio was at pains to point out that their plans could be discussed in greater detail at the next EU summit scheduled for March, which will include the other member states.

A super commissioner?

At the heart of the suggestions was a proposal by the three leaders calling for the appointment of a new vice president of the European Commission responsible for economic policy. This person would act as economy minister for Europe, tasked with boosting economic growth. According to Schröder, industrial policy has been neglected for too long.

There is now rampant speculation, of course, who the most likely candidate for the post will be. But when all is said and done, the big three's controversial summit was about far more than plans to appoint a "super commissioner."

Basically, Germany, France and Britain have realized that if the EU is going to meet the ambitious economic goals laid out at the 2000 Lisbon summit, then urgent action is needed. If Schröder, Chirac and Blair are styling themselves as the right men for the job, then good for them. Without leadership, the EU will only ever move at a snail's pace. And that most marathon EU summits fail to lead to obvious progress has been proven by the failure to reach agreement on the EU constitution. It's time for change -- and Schröder, Chirac and Blair are taking matters into their own hands.

Fair enough, but they'll have to do so with due sensitivity, tact and transparency. If not, they will indeed risk resentment as the smaller member states feel they are dominated by a Franco-German-British directorate.

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  • Date 19.02.2004
  • Author Judith Hartl, DW-Radio
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4h0s
  • Date 19.02.2004
  • Author Judith Hartl, DW-Radio
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4h0s

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