20 - 26 December 2000
The Treaty of Nice has attracted much media attention over the past few days, both positive and negative. As the dust settles, JESMOND SALIBA asks what the outcome really means for Malta
Shortly after the EU summit in Nice, critics have blasted the treaty it produced on reforming the union for enlargement.
While the Nice summit deal has been broadly welcomed by Eastern European nations hoping to join the EU, the Western countries were quite critical of the document.
The Nice summit was intended to be a brisk two-day affair to wrap up a new treaty reforming EU institutions. Reshaping Europe's institutions to cope with enlargement proved to be a nightmare for the European Union and the summit ended after five days and nights. The deal reached, which is meant to be ratified by the European Parliament over the next two months, alters the voting rights of member nations within EU institutions and lays the foundations for expanding the EU.
The agreement reached does not go far enough in forcing member states to abandon some of their veto rights in favour of qualified majority voting. The governments of the European Union had this issue on the agenda.
The summit had identified 30 new areas where member states would waive their veto rights in favour of qualified majority voting, but was met with stiff resistance. The talks - the longest in the EU's history - nearly came unstuck when smaller existing members, including Belgium and Portugal, complained about voting rights. The final compromise gives Germany, France, Italy and Britain 29 votes in the EU's council of ministers. Spain gets 27; the Netherlands, 13; Greece, Belgium and Portugal 12; Sweden and Austria 10 votes; Finland, Denmark and Ireland 7; and Luxembourg 4. As for the applicant countries, the votes vary from 27 to Poland and three to Malta. Malta being the smallest country with the smallest population has been given the least amount of votes. This came about after Germany, which had been at loggerheads with France throughout the summit over its voting rights, agreed instead to a significant proportionate increase in the number of German members in the European Parliament.
Voting rights have become more important as part of the complex voting scheme. The qualified majority was set at 255 votes out of 345.
Most of the countries were voicing their views about the conclusions of the summit. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia said the outcome of the Nice negotiations was positive since there will be no lines of separation in the new EU union. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg stated that he had rarely felt before that Europe remained so fragile an enterprise and the continent still held unsuspected complexities.
The Danish Prime minister said that not all of the problems had been solved, but a good path had been laid down and from here we go on. However, one cannot forget the declaration of Mr Romano Prodi who regretted that "we did not manage to go further".
The Maltese Prime Minister, Dr Eddie Fenech Adami, claimed that the conclusions reached in Nice were satisfactory and satisfied the governments aspirations.
Dr Fenech Adami continued that the decisions taken at Nice were the key for the next enlargement.
Dr Sant, the Leader of the Opposition, stated that Nice confirmed that the best way for the Maltese was to negotiate a deal and a special package for the island.
He warned that it was very evident that Malta will end up being just a drop in the ocean.
The Treaty of Nice proved that for now its quite difficult to reach a United States of Europe.
Maltese have mixed feelings. One might ask, why countries like Belgium slammed the treaty and Malta hailed it? On the other hand being realistic Malta is what it is: a small country with a small population compared to the rest; hence, it seems that things look to be in proportion.
What Nice might have proved is that at least, Malta now knows what its role within the EU will be, if we join. Another point is that the enlargement was not postponed any further and hence the possibility of joining is now realistic. Yet, when one sees the way the Eastern bloc of applicants is being treated and the way they have united themselves, and how the Western bloc joined forces and strengthened their arm, one has to ask the question the million-dollar question: what is Maltas role going to be in an enlarged European Union?