In the concluding weeks of Sweden's mandate over the EU presidency, European officials made their way to Gothenburg for a Council meeting on 15 and 16 June. The summit's agenda would neatly follow the issues Sweden set as a priority at the beginning of the year. Still, the rejection of the Nice
Treaty in Ireland and the potentially explosive situation in Macedonia were bound to hijack discussions. However, it was Friday's rioting in the streets of Gothenburg that grabbed most headlines.
EU officials were expected to work very hard to persuade their counterparts from the accession states that the union's support remains, at least in theory, undiminished by the latest developments in Ireland. In this respect, Sweden was thought to be ready to make every effort to push ahead with a strict timetable for the next steps of the enlargement process. Moreover, in the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on the Gothenburg summit, leaders are urged to speed up negotiations with candidate states.
On 15 June, EU leaders set 2002 as the deadline for the conclusion of talks, with entry in 2004 now a possibility. On 16 June, Sweden's Dagens Nyheter wrote that the goal is now that the new member states should be able to take part in the 2004 European parliamentary elections. However, the paper writes, the member states did not quite go as far as accepting what the Swedish government had hoped for: that enlargement would be under way by 1 January 2004.
Another issue at the top of the agenda in Gothenburg was expected to be that of sustainable development. Despite the inherent fuzziness of the term, in the EU forum it denotes bringing together economic growth, social cohesion, and environmental protection. The EU will also make attempts to reconcile its environmentally friendly plans with the cynical rejection of the Kyoto protocol by the US administration.
The future of the EU
Both of the above mentioned issues inevitably tie in to the wider and most important so-called challenge facing the EU—its very own future. And while it touches on a number of current arrangements, the underlying problematic is that of bridging national and supranational authority and administrative functions. Here, the Gothenburg summit is halfway from the declaration of the future of Europe at the Laeken Summit in December. Nevertheless, the transition from the notion of a European Union to that of Europe still remains unclear.
The thorns in their side
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh told the European Parliament that the summit should, among other things, make clear that the Treaty of Nice would be implemented and that ratification would proceed as planned. Clearly, the implied reference in this statement was to the rejection of the treaty by the Irish earlier this month, which has brought its EU-wide ratification to a halt.
In addition, in its resolution on the summit, the European Parliament urged the participants to take steps to ameliorate the situation in Macedonia and the Middle East. And while there is nothing unusual in a statement like that, it is still an indication of the growing concerns with the military conflicts in these parts of the world, which present vital strategic interests to the Union. Moreover, they also bring up issues on the viability of the rapid reaction force project.
Nice Treaty revisited
The rejection of the Treaty of Nice in the Irish referendum on 7 June has rekindled debates on the process of ratification of EU-wide agreements and on the cooperation between national and EU authorities.
The EU was quick to stress that it will not reopen negotiations on the treaty, which was originally arrived at after a series of exhaustive and frustrating discussions. As a result, Irish officials pointed that they might rerun the referendum after the country's general elections next year. However, another non-confidence vote will be even more difficult to swallow for the EU officials, so they have come up with an alternative way of ratification and implementation.
The new credo of most EU officials is that, in the future, treaties should be drafted by means of a Convention forum, whereby more transparency is guaranteed. Commission President Romano Prodi supported the convention method as a means of organising a debate on the future of Europe. He also pointed out that the rejection of the Nice Treaty should be seen as a rejection of the current model of ratification rather than as a rejection of the pact itself.
On the other hand, Irish officials have been considering the idea of adding a political declaration to the treaty that will counter the concerns of opponents to the current agreement itself. This practice, however may set a precedent that undermines the executive powers of the Council of Ministers and thus immediately loses grounds for serious consideration by senior EU bureaucrats, at least in the short run.
Ivana Gogova, 15 June 2001
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