To expect anything other than disagreements from the society of 27 members known as the European Union is to invite disappointment. But when they do agree, as they have in the last days of the EU summit of 2007, there is cause for suspicion. The press has duly reported on the official proceedings and the finale, some of which will be recounted in this space, but there are some delicious gossipy bits to share if you are so inclined.
From day one, diplomats created a pool to bet on when the EU Summit of 007 would end. The winners were picked at 5:30 am on Saturday morning June 23nd. At that point, many of the participants were the worse for wear, except Tony Blair, who apparently never sleeps. He flew off immediately after the adjournment to keep an appointment with Pope Benedict a few hours later.
Gossip: This Roman visit fueled rumors that Blair, who steps down as the British Prime Minister on Wednesday, is about to publicly join the faith he has been practicing not-so-privately for years. Catholicism. He was also probably asking the Pope’s blessing on the Spiritual Foundation he plans to establish after he leaves Number Ten Downing Street. (More on Blair’s post PM job alternatives to follow.)
As the EU Summit approached, and her six month turn as the EU President was ending, German media portrayed Chancellor Angela Merkel as Super Woman. You know the costume. Domestic voices said of her vision of a European Super State: “ Who cares? We’re dying out here in the countryside.”
Angela Merkel was previously an ugly duckling. Photos from her early days in German politics do nothing to dismiss this notion. So to be seen now as the beautiful German Swan, the one who could bring a new Renaissance to Europe, was a big deal for Merkel.
To her credit, Merkel did improve the tone and depth of the EU discourse, but her highest hopes were not fulfilled. In poker terms, Merkel bet most of her stake on winning a diplomatic breakthrough at this Summit. Her goal was nothing less than the resurrection of the failed European Constitution in the guise of an “Amending Treaty.” The original Constitution was deep-sixed by French and the Dutch voters in national referendums in 2005. The Summit results turned out to be more of a draw than a win. (EU officials announced that the new “treaty” was to be finalized later this year.) Merkel told reporters: "In terms of good news I can tell you that Cyprus and Malta have been admitted into the Euro zone. But there’s not yet any result concerning the European Treaty. However the atmosphere of the talks is good and open, and we are continuing to work on it, but we can’t yet announce that we have an agreement, and we are not even sure we will get one."
That became readily apparent when Poland played a wild card. On the issue of proportional voting, based on the population figures of EU member nations, Polish President Kaczynski wanted parity with Germany. He insisted that he would have had more residents to represent if the Nazis had not slaughtered millions of Poles during World War II. A representative from Luxemburg parried that Poland owed its membership in the EU largely to German support. Other diplomats suggested a compromise package under which Poland would get more seats in the Parliament when the EU’s "double majority" voting system goes into effect in 2014. (Don’t ask. It’s new math.) Others said the Poles would have to wait for a rewrite of the EU’s voting rules. These come up for re-negotiation in 2017. Kaczynski folded his hand when Merkel bluffed that she would host an EU meeting to which Poland would not be invited. The Danish leader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said of this uneasy truce: "That’s what it’s like when people have crawled very high up in a tree. Then they sometimes need help to get down with ladders and ropes and other instruments."
Which Kaczynski (no relation to Unabomber Ted) was really at the EU? Was it Lech or Jaroslav? The President or his identical twin brother who is the Prime Minister?
Another of Merkel’s propositions was to end the practice of rotating the Presidency of the EU, every six months, between the 27 member nations. Instead, she lobbied for — and won — the creation of a new position — a permanent President of Europe. Whose resume surfaced on the top of the application pile? Well, bless me if it wasn’t Tony Blair. The job opens up in two and a half years — just enough time for Blair to make millions via the lecture circuit and a book deal.
During the previous week, Blair and the new French President Sarkozy, (“Sarko”) were seen exiting a Paris restaurant high on bonhomie. Few know that when Blair’s daughter was a student at the Sorbonne, the Sarkozys acted as her host family.
But all was not rosy between this pair of pals. Sarkozy surprised Blair and everyone else with a bid to scrap a treaty clause — contained in the founding EU document of 1957 — which dealt with "free and undistorted competition.” Merkel was inclined to agree. So did Blair, until Gordon Brown telephoned from his London office.
Brown’s call was unprecedented. Because he takes over as Prime Minister on Wednesday, he forced Blair to reverse himself and hold out for the competition clause to be retained. Blair was also forced to hold his ground on four “redlined” issues that had to do with British sovereignty in matters of home affairs, social security, foreign policy, and support for the Charter of Fundamental Rights. To the despair of British nationalists, he gave in on 52 other sovereignty agenda items which were ceded to the burgeoning Brussels bureaucracy. This means Brown will be pressured into calling for a national referendum on the “Amending Treaty,” something he hoped to avoid.
As for the Tipsy element, during the previous week at the G-8 Meeting, Sarkozy turned up late for a scheduled press conference. When he arrived, he seemed to be slurring his words and his body language was decidedly giddy. A Belgian reporter leapt to the conclusion that Sarkozy — a man who insists he does not drink — was — in fact — drunk. The video clip of Sarkozy’s performance was flashed around the world on the Internet and more than 13 million hits were logged. Sarkozy hit back explaining that he knew he was late and so he jogged up several flights of stairs four steps at a time and was thus, understandably, out of breath, not tipsy.
The French emitted a collective groan when Sarkozy was sworn in as President because this tee totaller now has sole possession of the keys to the world-renowned wine cellar at the Presidential Palace.
Which brings us to the EU Summit vote on Vodka. The delegation from Finland were concerned that spirits sold as vodka but made from any old handy substances — like animal offal — had turned the vodka marketplace into “an alcoholic wastebasket.” In an attempt to sway the vote, the Polish Vodka Association lined up tables full of vodka shots before the issue was debated. In a policy which can only be characterized as hazy, the EU ruled that alcoholic fluid not distilled by traditional methods, from grains or potatoes, cannot be labeled as Vodka unless other specific distilling methods are clearly shown and also thoroughly explained — albeit in small print — on the back of every bottle. Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Austria expressed relief on this decision as they feared even more stringent labeling rules could have incited a vodka trade war. One presumes the victor in this war would, quite literally, be the last man standing.
As expected prior to this meeting, voting measures to establish a permanent EU Foreign Minister, as well as for creating an EU flag and hymn of allegiance were withdrawn. And as it was in the failed Constitution, so it is in the “Amending Treaty.” There shall be no mention of God.