The Nice Summit, it seems, is something we all wanted for the sake of clarity and some degree of predictability. Its outcomes, however, are far from lucid. Hence, the participating sides were fast to engage in dialogues (and monologues) on how good or bad Nice was.
The commentating parties did not lag behind either; they even started looking at the next Intergovernmental Conference of 2004 with renewed hopes and apprehensions.
Thus, everyone involved in the European project was anxious to recreate Nice (mainly in black and white) so that it fits the realities of one's particular agenda. And while trying to make up for the confusion surrounding the Summit, this post-Nice syndrome also served to generate the truths and credibilities of the meeting.
The successes of Nice
To start with, there are those who believed that this conference was a relative success. Naturally, French President Jacques Chirac took the lead in this direction, since he had responsibilities not just toward the French, but toward the somewhat intangible European public, too.
As it has already been emphasized a number of times, there are no "leftovers" from Nice as there were from Amsterdam in 1996. Also, according to Chirac, the European Union finally arrived at a more effective decision-making structure following changes in the role of the Commission and the President, combined with new applications of qualified majority voting (QMV).
The French President pointed to a new, 18-month roadmap, which would prepare the Union for enlargement was agreed upon. He also seemed sufficiently pleased with developments in EU foreign policy—one of the most difficult and contested spheres of cooperation and common, rather than national, interest.
The initiation of the RRF (Rapid Reaction Force) and the achievement of the still oxymoronic Balkan stability were emphasized despite the fact that the Nice Summit did not directly contribute to these developments.
At the same time, not everyone left the Nice Summit with good feelings. A great proportion of those dissatisfied were those affiliated with the EU, such as members of the European Parliament, because there was little progress made in extending the role of the Parliament with regard to the codecision procedure.
Thus, despite the fact that Commission President Romano Prodi echoed most of Chirac's praise for Nice, he was reluctant to adorn the Summit with full success. He made it explicit that the new applications of QMV have indeed made the decision-making process more complicated rather than straightforward, counteracting the main purpose of the Intergovernmental conference.
Nice was a step "shorter than the one we had hoped to make, or indeed could have made," Prodi concluded. Furthermore, MEPs pointed out that the Nice Summit and the consequent Treaty had, in the words of Dimitrios Tsatsos (PES, GR), more faults than merits.
Will an enlarged EU work?
Although the post-Nice debates raised many contentious points, they somehow seemed to circumvent the initially proclaimed purpose of the Summit, namely to prepare the EU for a healthy enlargement. Unsurprisingly, all politicians alike addressed the effectiveness of the meeting with respect to its goal only as far as their immediate, not necessarily obvious, interests were concerned.
In theory, developments seemed encouraging. With a sufficient amount of compromise from the Council of Ministers, the size of the Commission and its capabilities were adapted to an eventually larger Union. QMV was extended to 30 areas of decision-making, which meant that an EU stalemate was less probable even with 27 member states. Lastly, the political commitment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights was a clear sign of good will.
In practice, however, there was little indication that the decision-making process within the EU will be facilitated in any way after the Nice Summit. For one thing, it became obvious that realpolitik is still in its heyday and that there is no way for national interests giving in to supranational ones. In this respect, it is enough to mention France and Britain's insistence on the preservation of diversity of respectively, culture and taxation, for example.
In addition to this friction of national interests, there was an ostensible division of interest between big and small member states. Here, Belgium's struggle to counter France's attempt of re-weighing the Council votes in favor of larger states is a telling example.
Meanwhile, the assignment of votes to prospective members was also indicative of the same trend. In other words, with the addition of new members, it is even more likely that divergent interests based on scale will be playing a major role in European decision-making.
Last, but not least, Nice was a reminder of the looming danger of the division of interest between rich(er) and poor(er) member states. Already evident in debates surrounding the restructuring of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the development policies, it could be exacerbated with the admission of the poorer candidate states.
While it is not necessary to deny the viability of EU enlargement because of the prospect of increasing heterogeneity, the Nice Summit did not propose any efficient ways of even suspending conflict based on the economic characteristics of new and old member states.
All this takes us back to a reconsideration of who makes the "rules" and gives the judgments in the EU, and whom these benefit. For example, the changes in QMV work in practice not to facilitate decision-making, but to make it possible for few large states to block decisions. Meanwhile, in Nice the proudly assumed reactive, rather than proactive attitude of member states, especially that of Britain, raised old questions of the purpose of the EU and its limits.
Thus, despite the widely rejoiced idea of reuniting Europe, the Nice Summit implicitly reiterated the inherently expansionist approach of the EU towards eastward enlargement (this, if you like, is "post-Nice syndrome"). For many, the current structure and operation of the Union becomes unthinkable on an ideological level, once the EU takes in its new Eastern members.
As a result, we have already seen at Nice the application of the principle of flexibility as a means of incorporating deepening with widening. And we are about to see, at the following Intergovernmental Conference, the drawing up of what is thought of as a European Constitution, which is to ensure the eradication of the disturbing differences within the expanded Union.
Ivana Gogova, 8 January 2001
- Archived articles about the EU in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page
Speech by Romano Prodi at the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 12 December 2000
European Parliament Daily Notebook, 12 December 2000
"Doubts Beset Nice Deal" in BBC Online, 11 December 2000
"Nice Reaction in Quotes" in BBC Online, 11 December 2000
"Nice Agreement at-a-glance" in BBC Online, 11 December 2000