Behind the Scenes in Brussels

December 29th, 2012

part 1: EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent – Published on Spiegel Online International, by SPIEGEL Staff, Dec. 27, 2012 (Photo-Gallery).

What happens behind closed doors at an EU summit, when European leaders are among themselves? SPIEGEL has reconstructed the negotiations at the most recent meeting in Brussels in December based on documents and accounts given by numerous sources. It was a summit of hopelessness.  

The haggling is in full swing at this hour — North against South, rich countries against poor ones, German Chancellor Angela Merkel against French President François Hollande. They’re stuck on a word, one that would normally have a beautiful, positive sound: common. The word “common” is dividing Europe. This is what it has come to in this night of hard-fought negotiations.

For more than six hours now, the leaders of the European Union have been meeting in Brussels to discuss the future. They are here to agree on a document, and according to item 12 of that paper, there is to be a “common backstop” for the new banking union, a sort of shared resolution fund for worst-case scenarios also referred to more technically as a “shock absorption capacity.”

Germany wants the word “common” deleted. So do Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. France wants to keep the word in the document, as do Italy, Spain and Portugal. The northern countries are afraid that they’ll be asked to pay even more than they already do, while the south is hoping for more shared responsibility in the crisis. The dispute continues for three-quarters of an hour. The northern countries win the fight and the word “common” is stricken from the closing statement of the most recent EU summit.

This happened on Dec. 13 and 14, during a meeting of the European Council, the powerful EU body consisting of all 27 heads of state and government. They meet behind closed doors, and not even their closest staff members are allowed to attend. During these discussions, secrecy is normally paramount. But as of the last one, that no longer applies.

Months ago, SPIEGEL began opening the doors to this summit. A team of six reporters traveled to European capitals to find sources for a reconstruction of the December meeting. As a result, they were able to obtain reports on the negotiations, during and after the summit, from almost a dozen sources. The reports make it possible to accurately recount the events that unfolded.

High Expectations: … //

… Berlin Dismisses Reform Plans as Science Fiction:

But by a week later, on the eve of the Brussels summit, there was also little left of Van Rompuy’s proposal. The draft of the document that the EU leaders are supposed to adopt, the so-called conclusions, merely mentions that the member states will discuss their reforms when deemed “appropriate.” A common budget is no longer mentioned, and the document nebulously refers to an “integrated financial framework.” The idea of binding reform agreements among the member states and the EU institutions has also disappeared into the fine print. The document states that “individual agreements of a contractual nature with EU institutions could enhance ownership and effectiveness.” Now Van Rompuy has also eliminated the three-step plan.

In the meantime, he had spoken with many European leaders by phone, and he quickly found out that there is no strong support for deeper integration in Europe.

“Most of it is science fiction,” German State Secretary Link says dismissively at the luncheon in Brussels, referring to the first Van Rompuy document.
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