13 NOVEMBER 2002

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The view from Brussels

Staff reporter Marika Azzopardi recently took part in a fact-finding mission - at the invitation of the European Commission - to Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt where she attended a number of meetings revolving on the topic of European integration

I was welcomed in Tin Tin land by blue skies and a transport strike that left no trains, buses or metro available. I realised that if things such as this can happen in the hub of the European Union, then nobody’s safe. The strike equalled massive traffic jams and a hike to get a taxi. But we amazed the organisers at the Commission of the European Union by actually arriving on time, well ahead of our first speaker. We were all to spend the day getting first-hand information on the latest EU developments from the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the EU.

Our first speaker was Peter Ptassek, a Policy Advisor working within Romano Prodi’s planning staff. He immediately tackled the issue of enlargement and just how far the EU should go in expanding its borders. He insisted that it is a matter of going through several procedures of decision making which would enable the EU to take up the new members without losing its efficiency.

Ptassek observed that while at the present moment each country has its own commissioner, at the stage when there are 25 member states, it would be impossible to this one for one ratio. There would eventually have to be less than one commissioner per country. "Nice indicated problems but did not solve them. This will be up to Giscard D’Estaing. Ultimately foreign relations and a strong security policy are the best tools to ensure positive enlargement."

Another tangible problem highlighted by Ptassek was the issue of presidency changes. At present presidencies change every six months and when actions are effected, reactions to these actions would usually be felt only after the six-month period is due. Therefore presidents end up by not being able to take responsibility for their decisions.

Asked about Malta and the tangible concern that accession could bring an influx of Europeans to our country, Ptassek commented that if there were to be an influx, it would already have been felt by Malta. He cited the German context wherein Germany had a steady flow of workers from eastern nations, even earlier and he compared this fact to the Maltese reality. He shrugged off the idea that foreigners might want to take up living in Malta. "There are many other beautiful countries in Europe, and I don’t foresee Europeans coming to Malta en masse."

The second speaker was Kristin de Peyron, Deputy Press Speaker regarding the EU convention. The main concern for the team represented by Peyron is the efficient and transparent functioning of the EU at present, and even more so when members become 25 or more. This concern has led to the involvement of all national parliaments, which number 15 at present, the European parliament and representation from the candidate countries. So far 28 countries have taken part, the member states and 13 candidate states including Turkey.

One decision to be taken is definitely regarding the name by which the EU should be recognised. There are at present four proposals for possible names: United Europe, United States of Europe, European Community or European Union. This is one of the tasks assigned to the plenary. There have been 10 plenaries to date, all of which depended on proposals made by a working group. Topics discussed included the external action of the union; defence and the simplification of procedures and treaties. As regards the proposal on the future name of the EU, de Peyron confirmed that members of the plenary refused to consider the name ‘United Europe’ claiming it sounded like the name of a football club; ‘United States of Europe’ was also refused on the merits that Europe is not a state; so at present the neck to neck situation was between ‘European Community’ and the present name of ‘European Union’.

There has also been talk of forming a congress to be convened on a once yearly basis to hear representations and debate, without giving it the right to decided or to legislate. De Peyron confirmed that a fear was voiced as regards creating another structure which could further complicate the present network.

Christoph Heusgen met our group next and discussed something of the EU’s foreign and defence policy. The Kosovo War in 1999 made it clear to the EU that the time was ripe for taking a concrete decisions regarding a common foreign policy and a political union. Until then member states had been reluctant to enter the political field and there had still been a strong domination by NATO.

In principle the EU is now ready to begin military movement. "We are working very hard with NATO to ensure that there be no interference or duplication, although in comparison Europe has very limited resources." However he insisted that Europe is also a strong political actor and was present in the Balkans. Europe also managed to tame the first signs of a new ethnic war in Macedonia and was successful in that country.

"In the fall of last year, there had also been signs of conflict emerging between Serbia and Montenegro. We are presently taking over UN Police Force in Bosnia and replacing it with an EU Police Force which should be fully established by the end of this year." Heusgen claimed that there will be no European army but only response forces. Although NATO has the priority in such situations, when NATO does not want to be engaged, then it draws on the EU. EU-Nato negotiations have begun but are at present on hold over the Turkey-Greece conflict.

Asked just how this European response force will be funded, he said that expenses will be partly supported by the EU budget but in case of intervention, the old principles still hold. "It then falls upon the finance ministers to handle their part of the budget."

Regarding Malta’s possible contribution in this sphere, the speaker said that Malta should look at its capabilities and deficits and eventually identify areas in which it could contribute. "Individual countries have no way of controlling terrorism. There will be not be a classical defence system. We now have special forces which can intervene quickly to have peace enforcement, which are highly mobile and which include equipped special troops."

The last speaker to meet the group in this intense round of presentations was Heniz-Peter-Tempel, a Deputy Director in Gunther Verheugen’s office.

He was asked about Verheugen’s reactions to the situation he found in Malta in his very recent stay. "Verheugen was very pleased and not only because of the nice weather! He voiced very positive reactions the government’s attitude, especially in view of the situation between the two parties regarding accession. There now seems to be an increased consensus all round, and Verheugen is very optimistic."


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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