Europe’s time of reflection

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Krzysztof Bobinski
22 December 2005

Don’t expect too much. Exhausted by the 2007-13 budget deal and wary of the challenge from the youthful if deeply eurosceptic David Cameron, the Blair/Brown duo will take the United Kingdom even further to the margins of the European Union. France, flushed with its success in repairing relations with Poland, will mark time while it waits for its next presidential election in 2007 and ponders how to retain as much of the Common Agricultural Policy as possible in future.

Angela Merkel showed at the Brussels summit that Germany intends to play a constructive role in brokering EU compromises. This does not mark a return to the munificence of Helmut Kohl, but sets the stage for a working relationship of the Weimar three – Germany, France and Poland. With the United Kingdom on the edge of the picture, this could also mean that prospects for liberalisation will dim as all three in Weimar show little enthusiasm for labour market reforms.

What role for the other “bigs”?

Italy, obsessed with internal politics, shows little enthusiasm for playing a European role while Spain, grateful that it was allowed to retain a net inflow of EU funds in the 2007-13 budget period, will go quiet for a time at least.

So a time for reflection after the fiasco in 2005 of the constitutional treaty. This, in effect, means that the politicians will forget about Europe and concentrate on their domestic concerns, while think-tankers will, as ever, mull over the question of “whither Europe”. The issue, as ever, will be how to combine “deepening” – keeping an expanding if increasingly parsimonious EU on the road – with “widening”, which means working out ways of integrating a growing number of candidates who still want to join despite the angst on the EU which appears to be affecting the founding states.

The Austrian presidency, maybe subconsciously fixated on recreating the Austro-Hungarian empire within the framework of the EU, will press for the inclusion of Croatia, which means that Bulgaria and Romania will make progress to member status, while at the same time fending off the Turks. That begs the question of who will speak up for the Balkans. In the second half of the year Finland gets to steer the ship which signifies that the EU will be encouraged to look north and east and, to the delight of the eurosceptic Polish administration, that means work on a coherent EU policy towards Russia and a common EU energy policy – the sole eurofederist project currently on the drawing boards in the European Commission.

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