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Half empty

01 January 2004

A few months and a couple of Newsletters ago, we described the outcome of the European Convention as `half full'. After the failure of the Intergovernmental Conference to finalise a constitutional treaty for the EU, the contrary seems almost inevitable: never before, in fact, has an IGC ended in failure. What is more, the political and personal relations between the heads of state and government of the 25 look seriously damaged - which does not bode well for the coming months. Still, the future may turn out to be not so bleak, the glass not so empty.
Firstly, with the obvious exception of the modalities and scope for qualified majority voting, the IGC reached a tentative consensus on most of the 80-odd controversial points earmarked at the outset. Admittedly, they were (and still are) part of a package deal that was not finalised, so they cannot be considered an acquis of the IGC, a point from which to start again once the dust has settled. Yet the forthcoming Irish and Dutch presidencies would not have to start from scratch if and when they resume talks or negotiations on a constitutional treaty. If the prospect of a new Treaty of Rome has waned, why not dream of a new Treaty of . . . Utrecht, maybe?
Secondly, the IGC glass was almost full notably in the domain of security and defence. After a difficult start - when the reverberations of European divisions over Iraq still influenced the attitude of most negotiating partners - sensible solutions were put on the table and basically accepted. This applies both to the mutual assistance clause (Art. III-214), whose latest wording seemed to meet all demands, and especially to the article on `structured cooperation' on defence (Art. III-213). The ultimately converging formulations proposed by the Italian presidency and, jointly, by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, helped to clarify all the fuzzy elements in the original draft article released by the Convention (including the `admission criteria' to be included in the relevant protocol) and dispel the fears expressed by some present and future EU members. In other words, the functional requisites and procedures for a better performing ESDP were essentially laid down, if not formally agreed.
Thirdly, ESDP has further proved to be fertile ground for viable and effective compromises, in that crucial deals have been struck in those policy areas that did not necessarily fall within the IGC domain. This applies to the `permanent financial mechanism' for funding common military operations to be finalised by next March; to the Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments, to be set up during 2004; and also to the military planning headquarters for EU missions - an extremely sensitive issue on which (unlike the majority voting system) a willingness to find a balanced, workable and universally accepted solution eventually prevailed.
Finally, the glass is not entirely empty also because - as the case of the Agency shows - some, or perhaps many, of the new provisions regarding ESDP (and possibly CFSP) almost agreed upon by the IGC could well be put in place before, and arguably without, a brand new constitutional treaty. In fact, the enlarged Union may decide to implement whatever the Nice Treaty does not explicitly forbid - and arguably even more, especially if operational realities and imperatives call for quick and effective action.
This could apply even to `structured cooperation', although Nice formally rules out enhanced cooperation on defence and military matters. In fact, if everybody was ready to subscribe to the revised Article III-213 (and attached protocol), why not include the key elements of that in the new headline goal for 2010 and make them a common policy target for all EU members? By doing so, the Union could also overcome the risks of preventive exclusion and discrimination that made it so difficult to achieve consensus in the IGC.