Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My "International Papers" press review on Slate. It was my Brit-born editor, not me, that inserted the word "donnybrook" ("Dude, it's a fancy word for 'fight,'" she explains) into the headline.

It's about the European constitutional crisis. This was one of the longer column's I've written for Slate and I found it quite enjoyable, despite the subject matter, which is usually mind-numbingly boring. There was a lot to say. Isn't it funny, for instance, that the europhobic Anglo-American right thinks Poland's stick-to-its-guns intrasigence is a victory of sorts. ("New Europe Wins," wrote Sullivan, in a particularly nit-witted remark, calling the summit failure "good news for the U.S." And when did Spain become part of "New Europe," now the most meaningless phrase in the geopolitical lexicon?)

If you actually read some news reports instead of just skimming the surface, it appears this was actually quite a blunder on Poland's part. From the Telegraph:

Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, was open to discussing one formula under which laws would have required the backing of 54 or 55 per cent of EU members and 64 or 65 per cent of the EU population. But the Poles, assuming these ideas were the first offers in a long negotiation, refused. At around midday on Saturday, M. Chirac, Mr Schröder and Tony Blair went to see Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier and chairman of the talks, and persuaded him to declare them over.

Poland got much of the blame for so much work coming to so little. One diplomat said: "The Poles totally overplayed their hand. They thought they were the deal-breaker when, in the end, it was not up to them to decide".
And look at the public remarks of the heads of state and government. Poland does appear a quite a bit on the defensive. If this were truly a victory for anybody, I have trouble believing they'd be making such squeaky apologetic noises.

On the other hand, as EuroSavant points out, quoting Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza, there's an alternative version of events. Warsaw says the Germans appeared willing to compromise, but it was the intransigence of the French and Belgians that killed things. We're dealing with two completely different versions of the same events here. In any case, Berlusconi comes out looking like a real schmuck, as usual.

There's some interesting discussion over at Fistful of Euros, where I'll be posting something later if I have the time (and they're still willing to have me as a guest blogger).

What's notable is that it never came down to big countries versus small countries, as many have framed it. It came down to Europe's four big countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK) and the two medium sized countries (Poland and Spain, both at about 40 million) that want to be considered big countries. It's all quite silly, because it's evident that a compromise exists, somewhere, that would please everybody.


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