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Europe : Nice Compromise


Leaders of 15 European countries managed to emerge from a hard fought battle in the longest ever EU summit in Nice this week with a treaty that paves the way for the union’s expansion eastward. Twelve new members, mostly east European countries from the former Communist bloc, are set to enter the EU beginning around 2004, and the total number of new states in the EU may eventually go up to 27. The agreement came after days of bitter exchanges over the nature of power sharing and decision-making in the enlarged European Union. Protestors urging social reforms and attacking the Charter of Fundamental Rights that EU leaders endorsed also made their mark at the meet. The summit was set to register a landmark in European history, evolving the path towards a united Europe, but leaders barely managed to evolve a compromise agreement, highlighting the divisive issues that plague the EU.

The summit revealed how power struggles, old rivalries, and tensions between large and small states continue to hold sway over the functioning of the EU, as also how they are on a path towards a larger and more powerful union. Leaders at the summit argued not over whether to include new members, but on how decision-making should take place in an expanded EU. The main bone of contention at the summit – voting rights and veto powers – revealed how power politics can play a decisive role in this body. The issue of voting rights was obviously controversial because, in an expanded EU, it will take on even greater significance as many decisions are taken by majority votes, and on some important issues decisions are based on vetoes. Leaders at the summit fought over their voting weight and the issues that should remain under veto power. The big powers in the EU, led by France, attempted to perpetuate their hold by proposing systems that would give them prominence in voting. The smaller countries rebelled forcefully against this, the most vocal being Belgium and Portugal. France had to redraft the proposal three times before an ultimate compromise formula emerged, which still ensured greater power for bigger states. Germany demanded more voting rights to reflect its larger population after unification leading to ill-feelings between the old rivals, Germany and France. In the end, Germany managed to enlarge its voting rights. A complex voting formula remained after the protracted wrangle as France would not yield on a simpler system which would reduce its weight in the body.

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