A Bluffer’s Guide to the Treaty Negotiations

by Henry on June 21, 2007

As mentioned below, the member states of the EU are starting a new round of negotiations on a replacement for the constitutional treaty that went down in flames thanks to referendum defeats in 2005. Below the break my own doubtless idiosyncratic take as to what is at stake and what is important.

First off, the key question is whether there is anything substantively different between the constitutional treaty and what is on the table for negotiation (I’m not saying anything about the likely final product, as there is still a lot of stuff that is up for grabs). The changes that Germany (which holds the Presidency) has put on the table are about getting rid of the symbolism, while keeping the substantive changes. And even if they never quite amounted to a constitution) they are quite substantive, especially the proposal to incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in a backhanded fashion. I think that adopting the Charter would be a good move on the merits, as it would make basic rights justiciable on the European level. You can put forward a good democratic argument that resolving rights disputes through the courts rather than through politics is a bad thing. But the current system is one of rights protections already – but only of certain rights (rights to free movement, trade etc) which have a distinct pro-market bias (despite the creative and sometimes successful efforts of lawyers to extend them in novel directions including equal pay for men and women etc etc). I’d like to see other non-market rights getting a look-in too.

This means that if we look at the procedural issues rather the substantive ones, I think that skeptics such as Martin Wolf have the right of it. This is a quite substantial set of changes. It should be presented to people so that they can vote on it (and taken off the table if they don’t want it). It’s a shame and a disgrace that the EU member states have responded to the 2005 defeat by going back to their old practice of seeking to achieve integration by boring the general public into submission, and a very substantial backward step. If people aren’t willing to sign up to major changes in the EU system of governance, then too bad for the EU system of governance.

The headline dispute is likely to be between Poland and the other member states, headed by Germany, over voting weights in the Council of Ministers. One of the purposes of the previous constitutional treaty was to stitch up a deal on this issue before the new member states joined the club and started cutting up rough. This hasn’t worked out, obviously, and Poland, which has taken over Britain’s awkward customer role, is pushing for a system in which the number of votes each member state has in the Council would be a function of the square root of its population (which would obviously water down the relative clout of Germany quite considerably). Poland can in principle block the whole thing, but it might have to pay a significant political cost. Unlike Britain, when Margaret Thatcher was pushing to get ‘my money back,’ Poland is a net recipient of EU money, and may find itself in an awkward position when negotiations over various development funds open up again. Other issues might also blow up unexpectedly, such as Poland’s provision of secret CIA prison facilities under a previous government (the relevant Commissioner was muttering a couple of years ago about suspension of Council voting rights; while he has been remarkably quiet since actual proof has emerged, this issue is still out there in the long grass).

In comments below, stostosto points to this FT article, which suggests that Poland is playing its cards in a remarkably ham-handed way. On the one hand, there are some signals that Poland is willing to countenance a compromise. On the other, it has started talking about how it would have lots more population and a correspondingly enhanced voting weight, if only Germany hadn’t invaded in 1939. This is a direct attack on the EU’s most important self-justifying shibboleth – that it is supposed to have made the bitter enemies of WWII into partners committed to mutual prosperity etc etc etc. It’s obviously going to be especially upsetting to Germany, which might in a previous era have been more receptive to rude outside criticism, but which is now likely to be extremely pissed off with its WWII behaviour being dragged up again by the Poles. I suspect that this rhetoric is designed for domestic consumption in order to make a climbdown on voting rights more palatable. I also suspect that the Polish government either doesn’t appreciate or doesn’t care that this is likely to substantially damage Poland’s efforts to get concessions on this and that issue from other EU member states for the next few years. As a gaffe, it’s up there with Chirac’s advice to East European states to shut up about the war.

However, the question of respective voting weights, while obviously important to the respective member states, isn’t that interesting for the long term development of EU politics. More interesting to my mind are two key questions. First, whether national parliaments get an effective veto over decisions made at the EU level. The constitutional treaty provided them with a warning role which I suspect would have amounted in fact to an effective veto power (it would be politically difficult to ignore their recommendation) – at the moment, there is a proposal on the table to enhance this further. This seems to me to be an excellent idea. National parliaments have been losing clout in the EU - a lot of their business now involves either rubber stamping or making minor modifications to legislation that is drafted at the EU level. With a couple of exceptions, they don’t play much of a role at all in discussing how governments should negotiate on European legislation. Providing them with an effective veto at the end of the process would mean that they would have to be consulted earlier, and would perhaps become over time a key partner in the legislative process. This would mean increased inefficiencies in getting things done (the addition of another veto player), but would also mean a lot more democratic legitimacy. At the moment, governments are able to get away with a lot of stuff at the EU level that they couldn’t get away with domestically. More clout for national parliaments would make member state shenanigans more difficult to get away with, at the very least because parliaments would have a better idea of what was actually happening.

The second key question to my mind is whether majority voting and the so-called ‘codecision’ procedure is going to be extended to the “third pillar,” or, in plain language, whether the European Parliament is likely to have a voice on justice and home affairs issues. Again, I hope that this goes ahead, perhaps with an opt-out for the British. The con to this is that it does mean that member states have less freedom to determine domestic policing arrangements etc than they otherwise would have. The pro is that the key decisions are increasingly being made on the European level anyway, but through a shadowy set of arrangements and inter-governmental consultations in which there isn’t much at all in the way of real democratic oversight. Take, for example, the Prum Treaty on various forms of police cooperation, negotiated initially between a small set of member states and effectively adopted wholesale last week by the Council (except, notably, for the bits that the European Parliament might have had a say over). We can expect to see more and more of this happening, as the EU both tries to build up a presence in fighting terrorism and trans-border crime, and as conventional decision making procedures become more inconvenient for the big member states who want to see things happening. At the moment, the key decision makers are ministries of the interior, which are not always prominent in their innate respect for fundamental human rights etc. Allowing the European Parliament a voice means that at the very least these issues will get a public airing, and that some of the more egregious possible proposals never get past the drafting stage.

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{ 39 comments }

1

Glorious Godfrey 06.21.07 at 3:55 pm

A few throwaway remarks…

This is a quite substantial set of changes. It should be presented to people so that they can vote on it (and taken off the table if they don’t want it).

Actually, I’ve heard talk of several referenda down the pipeline (and, really, has any political process in the history of mankind been submitted to more popular consultations than the EU? Independence for Quebec, maybe). Sarkozy has no intention to hold a referendum, but that was a central, widely publicized element of his campaign.

More importantly, taking a treaty “off the table” after a negative vote, without offering any alternative, can be regarded itself as a decision of questionable democratic legitimacy. Somehow, I have yet to see Wolf, Gideon Rachman or any of the other assorted worthies bring up stuff like this. Before the French vote, I wasted a month of my life debating mostly leftist nonistes at the fora of Le Monde and Libération. The almost universal assumption was that an alternative would be negotiated after an eventual “non”.

The really interesting question would be thus how much of an alternative is under negotiation now, instead of the “why are the Eurocrats trying to revive this cold corpse” which is prevalent in the English-speaking press.

More clout for national parliaments would make member state shenanigans more difficult to get away with, at the very least because parliaments would have a better idea of what was actually happening.

I don’t want to sound glib (well, I do, actually), but national parliaments have a distinct tendency to be essential to keep national governments alive. They are, however informally, in on the “let’s pass stuff at the EU level and shift the blame on Brussels” scam.

But yes, a stronger voice for parliaments, both national and European, is sorely needed.

2

Glorious Godfrey 06.21.07 at 4:05 pm

The answer to the question of how much of an alternative is on offer would be: “not much at the moment, which is indeed questionable”. But the negotiations have just started and it’s not only the British or the Poles who want corrections.

3

Glorious Godfrey 06.21.07 at 4:08 pm

I’ll do a little vanishing trick now.

4

Raphael 06.21.07 at 4:25 pm

What I would want to see is a functioning way to change or abolish already existing EU directives that are unpopular with most people but supported by someone with veto power. The fact that, right now, so many EU directives are extremely difficult or practically impossible to change even if most people should think that they’re bad ideas means, in my opinion, that at the moment one can’t really call the EU member countries democratic. Not that anything will be done about that anytime soon, though.

5

Suvi 06.21.07 at 4:36 pm

“What I would want to see is a functioning way to change or abolish already existing EU directives that are unpopular with most people but supported by someone with veto power”

What EU directives are you thinking about, and how would one know that “most people” don’t like them?

6

Ciarán 06.21.07 at 4:54 pm

Raphael, if that’s the case, we couldn’t really call any country with autonomous regulatory agencies democratic either. Come to think of it, I’d say that the Commission is quite a bit more responsive and a lot more transparent than a whole range of autonomous bodies with delegated powers.

Not that that implies that there’s no problem.

7

Akshay 06.21.07 at 5:08 pm

According to Dutch newspapers, at the moment only The Netherlands supports a veto for national parliaments. You can see everyone else’s point: Shouldn’t we be able to *assume* a member state minister is supported by his parliament? If not, parliaments are simply doing a bad job checking the executive. If they cared, they would insist themselves that they are consulted at a very early stage by the government they hold in power.

8

Raphael 06.21.07 at 7:52 pm

suvi, I don’t mean any specific directives. I mean all those directives that needed approval of representatives from all member countries to pass.

I might have misunderstood the way these things work, but as far as I can see, the only ways to change one of those directives are either court decisions at the highest European level, or *other* EU directives that have the approval of representatives from all EU member countries, too. That means that it is a lot easier to block a change to such a directive- all you need is having one member country government on your side- than to change (or repeal) such a directive- for that, you’d need the support of all member country governments.

In my opinion, democracy requires that changing a law- except in constitutional matters- should be not that much more difficult than keeping it the way it is. There’s democracy when power is hold by the people or their elected representatives. If, however, it is practically extremely difficult, or almost impossible, or impossible, to change a lot of laws, then power is hold not really by the people or their elected representatives, but by those people who *were* the elected representatives of the people at some time in the past, when those laws were made.

Now, in an ordinary democratic country, it is usually not that much more difficult to change a law (unless it’s the constitution or a part of it) than to keep it as it is. Most of the time, the parliamentary majority has the power to do either.

But as I’ve explained above, in the EU, because of the high number of people who can veto a new directive that they don’t like, it is enourmously more difficult to change a directive than to keep it the way it is.

Therefore I think that thanks to the directive system, and especially the way it is used to harmonise laws throughout the EU, the EU and its member countries are more and more turning into a kind of “lithocracy”- a system where most laws are set in stone and are almost impossible to change, so legislative power is, to a large extent, hold by the historical figures who originally made those laws. In my opinion, such a system is not a democracy.

How would one know wether most people dislike a law, or a EU directive? There are ways to find out about people’s opinions, but anyway, I don’t think that this is relevant to my point.

ciarán, first of all, autonomous regulatory bodies usually regulate rather technical details of specific rules, not, say, the basic principles of inheritance or trade law, or general issues of what is legal and what is illegal. Second, the decisions of such bodies on the national level can usually be overturned as easily as laws- if necessary, by changing the laws on wich the regulatory body’s power is based. As I’ve explained above, it is a lot more difficult to change EU directives.

And no matter how responsive and transparent the Commission is, it can’t change directives on its own.

(The constitution proposal would have changed things so that some kinds of directives would not have needed approval by all member countries anymore, but other types would still have needed it.)

Not directly connected, but since I’m talking about EU directives: I generally think that it is a permament scandal when legislatures routinely get to vote on bills where they know that if they vote the “wrong” way, their country will have to pay fines.

9

Randolph Fritz 06.21.07 at 8:53 pm

Does anyone else hear echoes of the problems of the US federal system? I mean, Poland could be Rhode Island at the Constitutional Convention, in what they’re arguing for. Or any Southern colony. If I were watching this more carefully, I wonder how many demands for local autonomy are quiet defenses of the indefensible; that’s how “states rights” played out in the USA.

10

Henry 06.21.07 at 8:58 pm

raphael and randolph, George Tsebelis’s book “Veto Players” is the most developed version of this argument (albeit w/o the normative undertones).

godfrey – I agree that the parliamentarians (or some of em) are in on the scam – but it’s _harder_ for them not to take responsibility if they have been informed from the outset.

akshay – yep, it’s a Dutch proposal, but I suspect that it actually has quite a decent chance of getting through, b/c it is somewhat difficult to oppose in public. Different member state parliaments vary dramatically in their willingness to hold their governments’ feet to the fire on negotiating points – there are one or two with pretty active European Affairs committees.

11

richard 06.21.07 at 9:10 pm

Am I alone in thinking that the crisis in 1999, when the entire European Commission was very nearly voted out of office and, in fact, did resign en masse, might have something to do with a certain air of scepticism about formalising power in these institutions? Round our way the Eurocrats are mostly seen as conniving, meddling crooks, for all that they deal in some elevated ideas.

In other words, I’m not sure how you’d determine if a constitutional referendum defeat was a vote against integration, against the specific details of the proposed constitution, or against the actors involved (ie “sure I’d vote for a European constitution, but not if it’s run by this bunch”).

12

Tracy W 06.22.07 at 12:49 am

The Netherlands supports a veto for national parliaments. You can see everyone else’s point: Shouldn’t we be able to assume a member state minister is supported by his parliament?

Don’t you guys have confidence votes on things like the government budget? Or is that just a NZ thing?

I’m used to a system where certain decisions are subject to a confidence vote – I’m just puzzled by the idea that it’s automatically right to assume that a minister is supported by his parliament in every detail rather than checking.

13

Randolph Fritz 06.22.07 at 6:59 am

Henry, thanks for the cite. (One more for the stack, sigh.)

14

Akshay 06.22.07 at 9:31 am

Tracy,
It’s true that parliament has to vote enact any legislation, including the budget. But this is precisely why, in principle, parliament already has the power to check the government’s actions at the EU level. In practice, Henry is right that many parliaments simply give their executive a carte blanche. I think the Dutch parliament is a case in point: coalition politics and party discipline have pretty much tamed it. But to solve this, I wonder wether parliament shouldn’t just exercise the power it already has at the the national level, rather than complicate the EU “no-really-it’s-not-a-constitution”.

15

Glorious Godfrey 06.22.07 at 10:30 am

richard:

In other words, I’m not sure how you’d determine if a constitutional referendum defeat was a vote against integration, against the specific details of the proposed constitution, or against the actors involved (ie “sure I’d vote for a European constitution, but not if it’s run by this bunch”).

Obviously, the Dons of most of the British and much of the American press are largely uninterested in that question, although such things as for example the Eurobarometer surveys like the one I linked to provide some information.

Case in point: Sarkozy is reported to be pushing to get the commitment to “free and undistorted competition” removed from the new treaty.

Now, I’m not a big fan of attempts to reintroduce what, going under fanciful names like national “industrial policies”, is clearly just corporate welfare and other assorted forms of “special treatment” for well connected business. But that’s not the point.

The fact of the matter is that this would be a significant modification of the treaty, and one that would be bound to prove popular in France.

And yet I’m not holding my breath waiting for the Economist et al to trot out the “we have to listen to Europe’s peoples” line to comment on this one.

16

notsneaky 06.23.07 at 6:33 am

Poland is playing its cards in a remarkably ham-handed way

Well, ham handed maybe, but apparantly effective.

As a gaffe, it’s up there with Chirac’s advice to East European states to shut up about the war.

Or Markel’s proposition that the treaty be decided at a seperate meeting without the participation of one of the members. Unanimity, all-but-one, what’s the difference?

17

John Quiggin 06.23.07 at 7:53 am

I see the Poles have just caved in, and Sarkozy has got his way.

18

John Quiggin 06.23.07 at 8:04 am

As regards democratic legitimacy, the question of the veto comes up again. Clearly, whether it’s governments or electorates, getting unanimous support from 25 (and more to come) is going to be difficult. At what point is a qualified majority (as in constitutional procedures in Australia and the US) appropriate?

19

notsneaky 06.23.07 at 7:27 pm

Re 18

First, what a poorly written article (the NY Times)! It makes me wanna pull a Brad DeLong here. It doesn’t even tell you what the actual deal was which is surely the crux of the matter!

Second, I don’t see how “stepping back” from a veto, and getting most, but not all of what you want, is “caving in”.

Third, all this talk of Poland being “isolated” is nonsense. Several countries supported the Poles along the way; including the Czechs, Lithuanians, and Portugal among others. A few more probably quietly supported Poland as well, but hey, it’s always better to pull the chestnuts out of the fire with someone else’s hands, rather than directly pissing off the Carolignians.

20

Glorious Godfrey 06.23.07 at 8:21 pm

Sorry, Radek, but Henry is still treating the Kaczynskis with the proverbial kid gloves, and you –understandably, maybe– too.

Yes, Chirac is a twat, has always been. But his unforgivable “you have wasted a chance to keep your mouths shut” gaffe is to be seen in the context of…well, the Iraq war. Since I think we agree that it has turned out to become a bit of an utter disaster, ol´ Jacques could have cracked racist jokes on camera and still come out looking less bad than the competition.

As pointed out by several posts in the other thread, the Kaczynskis are in a category of their own, up there with Berlusconi. Aside from the piffling fact that digging up the skeletons of WWII for cheap point scoring on the home front is THE slippery slope we don´t want to go down, there´s nothing strange about pointing out that yes indeed, intransigence does get you isolated.

Let´s assume that the Kaczynskis are right, and that the double majority voting system fails to address a fundamental Polish grievance. Then how come it´s been possible to appease them with a simple extension of the current system? Because the alleged grievance is no longer their problem, that´s why. Heck, Lech has even gone as far as to say: “after today, Poland is capable of much better cooperation with France, Britain and also Germany, because we experienced solidarity.” Will Rachman or the guy behind the by-line of a certain weekly “newspaper” pick up on such an unseasonable apparition of the Christmas spirit?

21

notsneaky 06.23.07 at 8:51 pm

Which comment are you referring to? In 20 I didn’t say anything about the twins.

If you’re referring to earlier posts, or just the general sense you’re getting from me, then let me emphasize that for the most part I have no wish to defend the Kaczynskis with whom I disagree on pretty much everything, aside from some question of foreign policy (their stance on economic issues is one that the left should like – though they seem to have no idea about how to go about implementing any of it).

Having said that I understand why many people voted for them – they were the only “clean” party untainted by political and financial scandals. And that alone puts them in a different category than Berlusconi. And they were always much less enthusiatic about the Iraqi war (essentially they were fence stradlers on the issue) than, for example, the previous PostCommunist government.

22

notsneaky 06.23.07 at 8:56 pm

Then how come it´s been possible to appease them with a simple extension of the current system?

Umm because … Turkey, Ukraine, further EU expansion … and 2014 (actually 2017) is far enough away that anything can happen.

And the thing about contracts is that even the ones which stipulate that they’re “forever” can be renegotiated when the time comes.

I know this is cynical, but hey, it’s EU politics.

23

Glorious Godfrey 06.23.07 at 9:18 pm

The substance of the agreement is otherwise not too exciting, but about as sound as these things come.

Sarkozy indeed gets his way on competition. Knowing the French, this will not prove unproblematic in the future. At any rate, this will undoubtedly improve his image at home but earn him no plaudits from my hobbyhorse in this thread, the evil English-speaking press. I mean, it´s so difficult to tell those cases where a politician is being “short-sighted” or failing to be “bold” from those where he´s listening to “the people”.

Hulk is confused. Puny the Economist will not explain. Hulk smash puny the Economist ! !

The UK has been granted an exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Which has always been a pretty sensible way to address the issues of “sovereignty” which so often get mixed up with the much-abused “democratic legitimacy”. Europe à la carte for the filibustering set.

The Kaczynskis, an askance eastward look in their beady eyes, manage to secure an “energy solidarity clause”. Now that´s a legitimate Polish concern that needed addressing.

The new EU foreign policy chief will merge the jobs of High Representative Javier Solana and external relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Contrary to what the evil English-speaking hobbyhorse of chattering doom will tell you tomorrow in its editorials, this is only a modest step towards a common foreign policy. Which sort of sucks.

The national and the European parliaments get a greater say, which is always good.

The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) that is to start work before the end of July will surely introduce a few more changes, all timed for the 2009 elections to the European parliament.

24

Glorious Godfrey 06.23.07 at 9:29 pm

Crap, when I was writing #24 I was not aware of the stuff you had in the pipeline.

I was reacting to the fact that you seem to consider Merkel and Sarkozy´s threat (and they were clearly bluffing, BTW) to sideline Poland to be comparable with the WWII bullshit the Kaczynskis have been spouting. Sorry, but no. If you act the dick i.e. threaten with a veto at the first opportunity, you can expect consequences. On the other hand, there is nothing that justifies the demagogical exploitation of Europe´s bloody past.

I mean, In 1596, an Anglo-Dutch fleet under the Duke of Essex ravaged and sacked Cádiz. Should Zapatero have brought up the issue and asked for a greater weight for Spain in the voting system?

As for the cynicism of the wondrous twins´ willingness to be appeased: that´s exactly my point. It clearly shows that all the fuckers have been doing all along is grandstand.

25

notsneaky 06.23.07 at 9:35 pm

Well, Kaczynski’s statement was an unofficial remark in a radio interview. Stupid and undiplomatic but not in any way “binding”. Merkel’s (not Sarkozy’s) threat was an official proposal. That makes all the difference right there.

26

Glorious Godfrey 06.23.07 at 10:42 pm

Yes, there are differences. That´s often the case with apples and oranges or, to put matters somewhat more pointedly, the dirty business of politicians and the putrid handiwork of demagogic arsewipes.

Remember, it´s not me who´s comparing Merkel´s threat (and it is my understanding that Sarko supported her, but it would not be the first time I get stuff wrong) with the Kaczynskis´ statements.

There are lots of reasonable people (mostly outside Poland, one guesses) who´ve been following the negotiations and who think that the repeated veto threats of the Kaczynskis were too inflexible (and let´s not forget the attendant rhetoric. “Square root or death”? wtf?) . Note that those were “official” too. Merkel´s bluff/threat was a reaction to the wondrous twins´ inflexibility. Not the finest or most pleasant moment in the negotiations, certainly, but it didn´t come out of nowhere.

And it got the job done, which according to you seems to be a extenuating circumstance of sorts as far as the Kaczynskis are concerned.

The whole WWII business, OTOH, is completely uncalled for, and opens a can of worms we most definitely do not want to open. Sorry to point out the painfully obvious, but we´ve been bashing in each other´s heads since the Dark Ages. There´s plenty of cheap prejudice to go around, on all sides. The ostensible displays of cordiality that characterize EU pow-wows may appear stilted, but they are enacted for a reason.

Let me ask you something. Nobody questions that Poland has legitimate national interests. But do you seriously think that the twins´ antics gave them a stronger hand during the negotiations?

27

Glorious Godfrey 06.23.07 at 10:48 pm

“an extenuating…”

Proofreading is your friend.

28

notsneaky 06.24.07 at 12:11 am

And it got the job done, which according to you seems to be a extenuating circumstance of sorts as far as the Kaczynskis are concerned.

In what sense did it get the job done? That the Kaczynskis didn’t use the veto? Do you think seriously that they were going to?
Or in the sense that it made a lot of other countries – Lithuania and Portugal for instance – go “whoa, Angela, that’s crazy talk! Give a little!” – and Sarko too.

But do you seriously think that the twins´ antics gave them a stronger hand during the negotiations?

Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Standard bargaining strategy – make an extreme proposal in order to frame the debate in your favor then back down somewhat to the best position which was acceptable to you from the beginning anyway. And Kaczynskis’ statements just got them a lot of international reprobation. Markel’s proposal really shot the German bargaining position in the foot.

I know, I know, Poland gets lots of money from the EU. But the combination of Poland’s domestic politics and Kaczynskis own ideological leanings meant that Germany (and other countries) were much more worried about a Polish veto (in light of two other countries rejecting the constitution in a referendum) than the Kaczynskis were scared of getting kicked out of EU (like that was a serious threat!) or having things decided at a seperate meeting without them (also not very serious). All that was needed was a bit of crazy, unpredictable, undimplomatic behavior to convince others that, yes, they are crazy enough to use the veto (which I don’t think they are).

Is that cynical of’em? Yup. And sure it is, the dirty business of politicians and the putrid handiwork of demagogic arsewipes. But hey, maybe it’s about time the Poles learned how to play cynical dimplomatic games.

29

notsneaky 06.24.07 at 12:29 am

Just to restate. Kaczynskis’ statement was stupid, nonserious and undimplomatic.
But what Germany proposed was to exclude one of the member states from the dimplomatic decision making process which was all about deciding about how the future decision making process will function. If that’s not delegating someone (a country) to second class status I don’t know what is. In practical terms it was way way more offensive than any stupid gaffe about WWII.

And the reason why it compromised the German position is because it wasn’t just directed at Poland. Implicitly it was aimed at any country in the EU that doesn’t happen to be Germany, France, UK and maybe Italy and Benelux. What happens next time, when say, Hungary, or Portugal, or Greece finds itself in disagreement with the “true Europeans”? Gonna go and have a summit without them? Talk about setting a bad precedent.

France and Germany really need to get over this attitude of “we let you and we give you some money so shut up and let us run things for you” that they have vis a vis EE, and to a lesser extent other “junior” members.

30

Proempff 06.24.07 at 3:44 pm

“But what Germany proposed was to exclude one of the member states from the dimplomatic decision making process which was all about deciding about how the future decision making process will function.”

Sorry, it wasn’t – also, b/c that wouldn’t have been possible, given the existing set of rules.

It was simply the very open hint to the second alternative, discussed recently quite often again (at least in several continental governments and newspapers), a ‘Europe of different velocities’, with an inner circle of those who want to go ahead with more integration and an ‘outer’ set of member-states still under the roof of the existing treaty of Nice, as it happened already some times before and is also the way in cases like the Euro or Schengen, let’s say, some clubs within the club.

“If that’s not delegating someone (a country) to second class status I don’t know what is.”

No, its not delegating someone to second class, it was simply the hint at a potential ‘inner club’ of so far 26 members to come, combined with the offer ‘to join’, by this rendering the club needless, or to stay outside under the treaty of Nice.
It was the same with other member-states playing to and fro at the times of the Euro and I can’t see any possible bad precedent.. .

Of course, thing with the ‘inner clubs’ is (naturally), the rules are set up by their members. The members of Eurozone or Schengen define the rules and those who want to join have to take it or leave it – but they are not ‘second class members’ they are simply NONE-members of those ‘inner clubs’…26 members have had come to common grounds on some substatial changes on the system given by the treaty of Nice, which turned out to have some disfunctionality with now 27 EU member-states. They had come to an agreement already in 2004, when the council voted with all of the, at that time, 25 governments (including Poland) on the planned constitution, and now 26 agreed on a slightly altered ‘don’t-call-it-constitution’-version, which took into account some domestic ‘necessities’. It turned out that the Dutch couldn’t get along with the mention of something reminding of a ‘super-state’ and wanted more influence for the national parliaments? Ok, forget about an explicit statement for flag, symbol, or hymn (they will be used anyway, so what the heck) and increasing slightly the powers of national parliaments was not a problem to fall apart for but done within some hours. UK wanted to opt out from the Charta, a ‘don’t-call-him/her-foreign-minister’ and ‘independence for national foreign policy’, and ‘no interference in british social/labour policy’ ? OK, ‘two velocities’ on the first and fourth (and – maybe, time will tell- also on the other parts) and let their foreign policy be as independent as the US of A let them.., nothing not to be solved at short hand.
The system of MV and QMV is one of the vital points of the constitution that was discussed month over months already back at that time and under participation of the the new members 2004 yet to come. The Union finances itself (mainly) by customs on all goods from outside the EU (collected at the ports of entry but in fact finally payed for by the respective consumers) and by national contributions connected to the respective national GNPs and the national VAT-revenues in proportion to their respective European totals and by this very close connected to the respective population figures…opening the package with the weighting of votes for MV/QMV would have brought up necessarily some serious further discussions – and Poland wouldn’t have been in favour of having the proportions of the respective national financial contributions based on only the square roots of national GNPs and VAT-revenues, for sure.
‘No taxation without representation’ and, beside that – as decisions on EU-level have more and more direct impact on domestic populations – why should a vote for a citizen of a small country have an exponentially higher impact than a vote for a citizen who happens to have the nationality of one of the bigger countries? Talking about democracy..better closer to ‘one man, one vote’ or closer to ‘one state, one vote’?

For many of the same reasons it was simply not the way that ‘the Czechs, Lithuanians, and Portugal among others supported the Poles along the way’. They had other interests at stake, were content with the give-and-take they got and the only ones saying they would like and would be in favour for the Polish solution of the ‘square-root’ were the Czechs (for sure, other of the small states would have been also quite pleased about that, but hey, if someone offers you to increase the weight of your vote, wouldn’t you be in favour of it, too?), but even they made very clear already ahead of the summit that they would never back a Polish veto on that point.

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Glorious Godfrey 06.24.07 at 5:12 pm

But do you seriously think that the twins´ antics gave them a stronger hand during the negotiations?
Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Standard bargaining strategy – make an extreme proposal in order to frame the debate in your favor then back down somewhat to the best position which was acceptable to you from the beginning anyway.

That´s not just standard strategy. That´s a glaringly obvious, utterly transparent strategy. Presenting a tough front and a satisfactory fallback position is what people have been doing at EU summits since the outfit was created. The main innovation in the twins´ modus operandi, which you appear all-too-willing to forgive them, is that they have added to the mix a generous helping of genuinely repulsive demagoguery. “Give-me-my-money-back” Thatcher, eat your heart out.

Rhetoric, when used as a weapon, leads to escalation. This display of demagoguery sets a very worrying precedent. I´m afraid that the glib mention of game-theory-for-junior-managers 101 will not cut it.

I guess that, since I´ve been reading mostly the German press on this and you have kept in touch with what´s been written in Poland, we can go back and forth forever on who started what. I don´t care. Long before the Kaczynskis had decided to finally shut their traps it was clear that this particular schoolyard scuffle had already gone too far.

Markel’s proposal really shot the German bargaining position in the foot.

Why? Wasn´t her proposal “a bit of crazy, unpredictable, undiplomatic behaviour”? Just what the doctor ordered? As it happens, Merkel is among the most decent specimens one can find in the German right. She has been subject to a lot of pressure from the hawks in her own wing, to stand up to the twins. You see, the “one man, one vote” line is bandied in Germany at least as often as the Polish grievances on the other side of the Oder-Neisse line.

Merkel just took the whole pathetic spectacle to its logical conclusion. She called the twins´ bluff with an outrageous, calculated and perfectly modulated mindfart of her own. And everybody ended up looking worse for it.

And the reason why it compromised the German position is because it wasn’t just directed at Poland. Implicitly it was aimed at any country in the EU that doesn’t happen to be Germany, France, UK and maybe Italy and Benelux. What happens next time, when say, Hungary, or Portugal, or Greece finds itself in disagreement with the “true Europeans”? Gonna go and have a summit without them? Talk about setting a bad precedent.

Oh, here you explain why. Well, no offence, but do allow me to call bollocks on this reading of what´s implicit in the embarrassing little episode. It´s not about “finding oneself in disagreement” with other countries. It´s about mentioning the nuclear option i.e. the veto at the first opportunity and doing one´s level best not to sound serious.

Let´s be mates and reach a deal, OK? I´ll gladly grant that Merkel was a Very Bad Woman Indeed if you stop trying to palm off the Kaczynskis as canny, mettlesome statesmen.

All that was needed was a bit of crazy, unpredictable, undiplomatic behavior to convince others that, yes, they are crazy enough to use the veto (which I don’t think they are).

Yes exactly, what a brilliant pair of Hasardeure . “All that was needed” to suceed in these difficult negotiations was for the twins to pull outrageous shit out of their tush. Angie just peed in her knickers ! !

No, you can´t be serious.

But hey, maybe it’s about time the Poles learned how to play cynical diplomatic games.

Sorry, but that´s just dripping with prima donna victim complex bullshit. No more Mr. Nice Pole. Yeah, right.

France and Germany really need to get over this attitude of “we let you and we give you some money so shut up and let us run things for you” that they have vis a vis EE, and to a lesser extent other “junior” members.
That Germany and France have attitude problems is undeniable. For example, don’t get me started on the whole Stability and Growth Pact debacle. But, you see, Spain for example was the single biggest beneficiary of EU solidarity funds for almost twenty years, had some serious bilateral issues with France in the agricultural domain, has got into very tough negotiations in its time, and yet not even Aznar managed to be as big of a dick as the Kaczynskis. And it´s not like Spain hasn´t benefited from EU membership.

It all comes down to ideology, doesn´t it? It´s not about realistic self-interest and game theoretical wizardry. It´s about thinking that a EU summit has more in common with the Versailles Conference than with a business meeting.

The name of that ideology is nationalism. More on that later.

Incidentally, those Carolingian attitude problems get highlighted far more often than the uniquely British combination of fifth-columnism, niggardliness, ideological hegemonism, hypocritical “concern” for democracy, and generally laughable posturing as a “bridge” between the US and Europe. And let´s not forget, in the last EU-summit it´s the British who managed to piss the Poles off royally with their budgetary minimalism. It was the British media that was acting as a resonance box for UKIP slogans (the “why build a new underground system in Warsaw and new sewers in Budapest” line cropped up in a couple of live debates on the BBC, for example).

32

Glorious Godfrey 06.24.07 at 5:54 pm

Proempff:

It was simply the very open hint to the second alternative, discussed recently quite often again (at least in several continental governments and newspapers), a ‘Europe of different velocities’, with an inner circle of those who want to go ahead with more integration and an ‘outer’ set of member-states still under the roof of the existing treaty of Nice.

True, but the Poles who, let´s not forget, have a generally favourable attitude towards European integration, get very antsy when there´s talk of a “periphery” of less integrated member states. Also, since the enlargement to EE is still recent, the hypothetical constitution of a “core” that would forge ahead with political integration would appear to be timed to leave the new members out.

At any rate, I´ve always disliked this talk of “different velocities” because it tends to lend credence to that most absurd of eurosceptic straw men, the notion of the imminence of the inception of a European Superstate of some kind.

The principle is applied all the time, though, as you correctly point out. Only on a modest scale and by countries, such as the UK or the Scandinavians, that can plausibly “opt out” of stuff, instead of appearing to have been excluded.

So, yes, Merkel´s threat was pretty explosive.

BTW, Radek, I won´t post anything more on the subject of nationalism, in spite of what I promised at #33. What can I say, the internets are a throwaway medium and I am a bit of a jackanapes. Plus, I lie frequently and am not to be trusted.

33

notsneaky 06.24.07 at 7:13 pm

That´s not just standard strategy. That´s a glaringly obvious, utterly transparent strategy.

Maybe, maybe not. Its transparent to you, maybe to others, but neither I nor you can get inside their heads. What matters is outcomes (which is what your original question was about). And judging by the outcomes, the strategy, transparent or not, worked. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design.

I guess that, since I´ve been reading mostly the German press on this and you have kept in touch with what´s been written in Poland, we can go back and forth forever on who started what.

Well, the Polish press was pretty divided on the issue. The opposition was very critical of Kaczynskis, even more so then the foreign press. I’m guessing there was a diversity of opinions within the German press as well. “Schoolyard scuffle” is a good way to characterize the whole thing. But if you find yourself in a schoolyard scuffle, you play by the schoolyard rules.

As it happens, Merkel is among the most decent specimens one can find in the German right.

Sure, I agree and in fact like her much better than I like the Kaczynskis. Wanna switch HoGs? But that mostly has to do with domestic policies/general ideology. International diplomacy, unfortunately but inevitably, gets played by a different set of rules.

Re; next few paragraphs see my first paragraph. Outcomes.

not even Aznar managed to be as big of a dick as the Kaczynskis

True, but I think the difference here is that the disagreements between France and Spain were about specific, fairly narrow issues. They were not about th meta-issue of how everything’s gonna be decided, where the stakes are much greater. I’ll give a specific example below…

It all comes down to ideology, doesn´t it? It´s not about realistic self-interest and game theoretical wizardry.

Well, no, it is about self interest. Here’s an example – the one I promised – and actually you’re the one who brought it up; energy policy. Germany and other WEUs have shown themselves all to willing to go behind the back of their Eastern neighbors to make shady deals with the Russians. Shady, because it’s obvious that they’re trading off cheap gas for themselves for increased Russian political influence in the East. Now, Russia is not a member state (hopefully at some future point it will be) and they’re acting against fellow EU members’ interests (not just Poland but also Baltics not to mention potential entrant Ukraine). It is about self interest.
I think the Poles here feel like they need a decision making system which is favorable enough to them (and small countries like the Baltics) that can act as a check on these kinds deals.

As far as Britain, it doesn’t matter. In 10 years or so (before 2017 at least) we’ll have their vote locked up, since their entire plumbing system will be our hostage.

Re: 34
That’s cool.

34

Glorious Godfrey 06.24.07 at 10:06 pm

Well, I´m not German, although I live in Germany. Anyhow…

What matters is outcomes (which is what your original question was about)

That´s the main reason we´ve been talking past each other a bit up to this point. Essentially…

GAWD NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ! ! ! !

I realise now that my original question was pretty boneheaded, all things considered.

Sorry to pull the standard “Hah! You studied THIS! So your mind is LIKE THIS and it EXPLAINS EVERYTHING” crap that always seems to crop up in these kinds of discussion, but you´re thinking too much like a typical economist. You seem to be hung up on nice, tidy abstract notions of “negotiation” and “credible threat” and so on. Thus, being an “unpredictable and undiplomatic” nutbar is OK, if it gets the job done.

That´s rubbish, frankly.

Every polity, every form of political association, is based on rules, written or otherwise, of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. It is agreed that the pursuit of self-interest occurs only within the limits allowed by said rules. Break them, and the polity will evolve, and not necessarily in pleasant ways.

The Kaczynskis are the two highest office holders in a country of some forty million inhabitants, with a remarkable pedigree. If they behave like the sort of fuck you wouldn´t ever think of entrusting with public office, they are not getting the job done. They are displaying indecorous, disgraceful behaviour. And they´re tapping into a rich lode of prejudice and emotion that other dignitaries, in other countries can exploit too.

It´s really simple. Rhetoric, when used as a weapon, leads to escalation.

Schoolyard scuffle” is a good way to characterize the whole thing. But if you find yourself in a schoolyard scuffle, you play by the schoolyard rules.

Well, the whole point of this and all preceding posts is that if EU politicians allow their disputes to degenerate to the level of schoolyard scuffles, it´s not guaranteed that the whole bloody thing will not start to fray at the seams.

Digression: I was reading a biography of Freud the other day. It appears that the good doctor was shocked when WWI broke out. He, like many of his contemporaries, just could not believe that the European powers would shred the ties of trade that bound them. And that´s from the guy who “discovered” the thanatos.

…domestic policies/general ideology. International diplomacy, unfortunately but inevitably, gets played by a different set of rules.

See above. International diplomacy is not a generic, immutable thing that came into being the first time a Sumerian city waged war on its closest neighbour.

And, please, don´t give me the “unfortunately but inevitably” crap that is the hallmark of every bargain-basement “realist”.

True, but I think the difference here is that the disagreements between France and Spain were about specific, fairly narrow issues. They were not about th meta-issue of how everything’s gonna be decided, where the stakes are much greater.

Aznar was the one who negotiated on Spain´s behalf when the current voting system was agreed upon, in Nice. So the stakes were pretty much the same.

It all comes down to ideology, doesn´t it? It´s not about realistic self-interest and game theoretical wizardry.

Well, no, it is about self interest.

Well, yes, it´s about ideology. Because self-interest and ideology are not disjoint categories.

As already argued, not all negotiation fora are born equal. Ideology influences one´s perception of the nature of a specific forum, of what´s permissible in it, etc.

In addition, the promotion of nationalism is in the Kaczynskis self-interest, and that of their coalition partners. Spreading warm, fuzzy feelings of pan-European cordiality, not quite so much.

In the course of the last few months, we have been able to appreciate to what extent the wondrous twins know what hot-buttons will make the Polish body politic get all twitchy and sweaty.

Berlusconi used to receive foreign dignitaries with a swanky kerchief stretched over his balding pate. He looked like a cretin but, apparently, in Italy some people did like it.

If Dubya´s domestic ratings have only slowly converged towards levels similar to those he enjoys in the rest of the world, it´s at least to some extent because his hambone impersonation of a reg´lar Texan ranch hand is more appealing in the US than abroad.

In other words, the kind of shitty politician we´re talking about may be ubiquitous, but the “charisma” that each of them displays is invariably an extremely quaint, local phenomenon.

It´s therefore not surprising that they tend to regard a supranational entity like the EU, with its consensus culture, the technical nature of much of its legislation, etc. with great aversion. How could any of them ever thrive in such a world?

The EU is an edifice built on a foundation of liberal idealism, and compromise and pragmatism are its brick and mortar. The sense of semiotic void which such an entity must elicit in your average demagogic arsewipe must be horrifying indeed.

A week or so ago, we had a lot of riotous fun peeing all over Václav Klaus in effigy. He´s a manful, hairy-chested, rumbustious, hard-assed sumbitch whose demagogic bona fides are beyond doubt. He also happens to be a rabid eurosceptic. Coincidence? I think not.

Here’s an example – the one I promised – and actually you’re the one who brought it up; energy policy…I think the Poles here feel like they need a decision making system which is favorable enough to them (and small countries like the Baltics) that can act as a check on these kinds deals.

More power to you, literally. Just as long as the one you send to negotiate on your behalf can keep a civil tongue in his or her head, and as long as undermining the EU is not part of his or her ideological mission statement.

And since we´ve sounding like broken records for a while already and this post is too damn long as it is, that´s the last I´ll say on the topic, if you don´t mind.

35

notsneaky 06.25.07 at 8:32 am

And since we´ve sounding like broken records for a while already and this post is too damn long as it is, that´s the last I´ll say on the topic, if you don´t mind.

Alright, I’ll leave it alone too.
Just for the record though, I never brought game theory or economics into this. Just said that the various parties were, um, bargaining, more or less sucessfully. I think you were projecting based on stuff from my post in other threads into this one.

36

Glorious Godfrey 06.25.07 at 1:40 pm

I´ll gladly plead guilty on projection-related charges.

But the moment the concept of “successful bargaining” enters the discussion, the projection/leap of logic becomes not too far-fetched, surely?

There is no such thing as the completely free, unbridled pursuit of self-interest. Every association among individuals or states is a covenant, subject to rules, many of which will be unwritten. The concerned parties may have internalized those rules, to the point that they do no longer realise they are there. Or they may play fast and loose with them. In such a case, the covenant´s self-regulation mechanisms may eventually be stretched to the breaking point…or at least lead to unpleasant “deformations” of the association.

That´s some half-arsed pop sociology, verily. But there´s a nugget of timeless truth hidden in the amateurish turd.

And, sorry to bring up the topic again, but it´s not like some of that most basic, childishly obvious of insights hasn´t already made its way into current economical thinking.

Off topic, and related to #36 above: Freud´s first work on the Todestrieb was actually published in 1920. It´s clear that the sheer self-destructive madness of WWI weighed heavily on his thinking.

Plus, the expression “sense of semiotic void” is some seriously fucked-up writing. But, being partial and all, I find it has a certain campy charm.

37

James Wimberley 06.25.07 at 3:22 pm

Henry: human rights are already justiciable at European level, through the European Convention and Court on Human Rights (ECHR): imperfect but it works. The problem for Brussels has been that they don’t own the ECHR. So we now have a duplicate but slightly different Charter, and the prospect of continuous conflicts of jurisdiction and both public and legal confusion. Gee thanks, Angela.
(I declare an interest: I’m a former official of the Council of Europe, which runs the ECHR).

38

Katherine 06.26.07 at 10:21 am

James, the human rights that are justiciable via the European Convention and ECHR are not the same as the “fundamental rights” that could possibly be justiciable via current possible proposals.

39

Glorious Godfrey 06.26.07 at 2:07 pm

Before the thread goes down the rabbit hole:

“a smorgasbord of reactions”:http://www.euractiv.com/en/future-eu/eu-treaty-deal-meets-praise-criticism/article-164921

I´m using textile so I´m pretty certain I´ll fuck up.

What you would expect, really (both the reactions and the fuck-up, that is).

Hey, Radek. Prodi is sort of trying to address the subject-matter of our extended exchange. It is unknown, however, whether he´s putting his finger on the irreducible political kernel of the issue or just soundbiting his way out of trouble.

The Open Europe boys are total hacks, BTW.

In related news, our friend Rachman manages to put a classic eurosceptic chestnut “to good use”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c183c4a8-2338-11dc-9e7e-000b5df10621.html

The beastly complexity of it all. He remains true to the script, seemingly underestimating people´s ability to read words on paper, and ascribing insidious Eurocratic intent to the alleged undecipherability of the text.

The thought does not cross his mind that the complexity is to a significant extent the result of the attempts of specific nation states to minimize the impact of EU initiatives on them.

Witness the UK´s attitude towards the Charter of Rights, which is indeed legitimate but did not precisely contribute to greater transparency, or how it got away with a hideous rechristening of the name of the EU Foreign Policy Guy.

But…lack of the Democratic Legitimacy thang as a consequence of the actions of Nations! ! ! Why perish the thought.

He does endear himself to the reader with the “I know shit about Nabokov´s ´Pale Fire´ but I can google and I have a column to write” bit, though.

Incidentally, there´s already talk of some referenda (Ireland, Danemark, the Netherlands).

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