Saturday, November 29, 2003

EU ministers lock horns over new constitution.

Run down: Two weeks to go. No mention of Christianity, God, or religion in the preamble. Britain, France and Germany OK military planning facility independent of NATO; Belgium foreign minister says independent, integrated European defense is "an irreversible process."

But Poland/Spain aren't backing down from their insistence on the increased voting power given them in the Nice Treaty. Italy, as current six-month president of the Union (a stupid arrangment that the new constitution will hopefully change), wants desparately to finish this thing in December so they can get credit and call it the second "Treaty of Rome." So Italy's leading the charge for a compromise change to Nice that will satsify everybody. It's a question of who's going to blink first.

(A change to Nice would mainly benefit France, I believe, so that would mean Italy is being the mercenary foot soldier of France. How's that feel, I wonder? I'd also be interested in what the Germans are thinking with this. The new voting arrangement would help them, too.)

My humble prediction: Italy will back down and the Nice voting will stay, which is probably a good thing, as the pre-Nice arrangement (according to my very simple understanding) was arbitrary and unfair. France and Germany haven't helped themselves with the stability pact shenanigans; neither has Italy, as they brokered that weasly deal, too. (Poland's foreign minister: "What happened in Ecofin on the Stability Pact confirms that the voting system is of crucial importance.")

Barring that outcome, probably nothing will be decided this month, which will mean the constitutional process will have dragged on far longer than most people wanted or anticipated. I'd be very surprised if Spain and Poland backed off their insistence on the Nice voting arrangement, which would give them a lot more power. Given small countries' hostility to the stability pact decision, it's also looking more likely, that there's going to be one commissioner per country, which is both a good thing (more power for the nations) and a bad thing (an extremely unweildly European Commission).

But don't take my word for any of this.

Oh -- just by the way, on the comments page for Slate piece of mine that went up Wednesday, I was chuffed that two readers wrote that my original "Rhineland" comparison was better than the correction. Original: "To read Le Monde, you'd think Germany had just re-occupied the Rhineland." Correction: "To read Le Monde, you'd think Germany had just re-occupied Paris." The correction sort of makes me look foolish, as though I don't know where the Rhineland is (um, along the Rhine?) -- but whatever.


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