Building a better summit

Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.6, 8.2.01, p11 (editorial)
Publication Date 08/02/2001
Content Type

Date: 08/02/01

Pierre Moscovici, France's European affairs minister, may not be the most popular figure in national capitals after his high-profile role in the bruising negotiations over the Nice Treaty. But Union member states should set aside their personal feelings and consider his call to create a powerful new Council of European ministers.

Increasingly in recent years, difficult issues have had to be addressed in the heady surroundings of EU summits. The phantom deal on savings tax that was stitched up at Feira last year and the European company statute agreement wrapped up in Nice come to mind. But in a growing number of cases these decisions suffer from a lack of preparation on the part of some heads of state and government that allows others to press their natural advantages.

In Berlin, for example, when leaders gathered to set the EU's budget plans for the next six years, French President Jacques Chirac used his mastery of the intricacies of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to snatch a better deal for his country's farmers. At Nice, France's refusal to put serious options for vote reweighting on the table until the summit started meant that leaders needed calculators to haggle over what were essentially issues of power-sharing among member states. The resulting agreement speaks for itself.

So Moscovici's plan for a powerful new group of European ministers has several clear advantages. It would improve the quality of decision-making when leaders gather to settle the major battles of the day. Having a hotline to heads of state and government would also give ministers the clout they need to resolve issues before they get to the summit level.

Creating these posts also offers an opportunity to improve the legitimacy and public accountability of decision-making in the EU. Moscovici envisages that the new ministers will regularly report to national parliaments - a vast improvement over closed-door deal-making in Brussels.

Efforts to boost coordination of decision-making between the institutions and national capitals are long overdue. An idea like Moscovici's might just have made Nice that much nicer.

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