|Vol.7, No.6, 8.2.01, p1
FRENCH European affairs minister Pierre Moscovici is calling for the creation of a powerful new body of ministers that would lay the ground for major policy decisions to be taken by EU leaders.
He says it would enable the Council of Ministers to "fully recover its role" in preparing heads of state and governments to tackle the most controversial issues of the day.
Diplomats believe that French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin will echo Moscovici's proposal for a new tier of EU power-brokers when he tables his own vision for the future of Europe this spring.
In a bold speech last weekend to German MPs, the French European affairs minister made it clear that the new body would not replace meetings of foreign ministers in the General Affairs Council but would leave them to deal with external relations, security and defence issues.
"The Council, as the place where the synergy between member states of the Union is formed, must fully recover its role in preparing European Councils by, for example, setting up a permanent Council of Ministers specialised in European affairs which would manage current business, interfacing with the Commission," he told the meeting of the Franco-German Institute.
His plan is being seen as the strongest effort yet to strike back against the trend of letting EU leaders settle difficult issues at their summits, held four times a year. Critics say this has led to the sort of debacles seen at Nice because heads of state and government do not always master the detail of complicated dossiers.
French officials say that under Moscovici's scheme permanent Ministers for Europe, based in Brussels, would report directly to their head of state or government and have the political clout to thrash out deals on difficult issues.
The post would be filled in each country by a senior political figure with a hotline to the prime minister. In the case of the UK, the job could go to someone like former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson, speculated one French official.
EU diplomats say the idea could attract widespread support because it would improve coordination between Brussels and national capitals. "This may well be an idea whose time has come," said one.
But officials warn that the scheme would meet with strong opposition from UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who believes that summits should set the direction of EU policy.
"We owe it to our citizens to let them know clearly what policies and laws are being enacted in their name," Blair said in his keynote speech on the EU in Warsaw last month. "The European Council should above all be the body which sets the agenda."
Diplomats also warn that the plan would run into difficulties because cabinet-rank finance and foreign ministers would not accept being outvoted by the group. In his speech, Moscovici also called for the Commission President to be from the same party as the largest group in the European Parliament.
Moscovici first developed his ideas for a Council of European affairs ministers 18 months ago but this is the first time the scheme has formed part of French suggestions for advancing European integration. The plan has the backing of former President Jacques Delors and Commissioner Michel Barnier, who represented the Prodi team in the recent negotiations for the Nice treaty.
Diplomats say Moscovici's speech was a clear attempt by the French to re-take the initiative on integration. Paris has been stung by criticism that despite its rhetoric on further integration it is less prepared to share sovereignty in more areas of
French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici is calling for the creation of a powerful new body of ministers that would lay the ground for major policy decisions to be taken by EU leaders.
|Politics and International Relations