German blueprint puts EU on road to recovery

2nd July 2007, Comments 0 comments

2 July 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Germany's turn at the helm of the European Union ends on Saturday with the 27-nation block embarking on a course of reforms to meet the challenges of the coming decades. The decisive push was given at a marathon summit in Brussels last week which prepared the groundwork for a new treaty to replace the EU constitution killed by Dutch and French voters two years ago. Chancellor Angela Merkel was given much of the credit for brokering the deal, which many consider the highlight of

2 July 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Germany's turn at the helm of the European Union ends on Saturday with the 27-nation block embarking on a course of reforms to meet the challenges of the coming decades.

The decisive push was given at a marathon summit in Brussels last week which prepared the groundwork for a new treaty to replace the EU constitution killed by Dutch and French voters two years ago.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was given much of the credit for brokering the deal, which many consider the highlight of her country's six-month presidency of the EU.

The German leader won a lot of respect for her negotiating style during a turbulent six months, which also saw a landmark EU agreement to combat climate change, but few advances on foreign policy.

"She deftly played Germany's hand as Europe's biggest nation and most potent economy," said Andreas Maurer, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

"She succeeded in winning over the smaller and medium-sized countries for her position without leaving the impression that Germany was dictating matters," he said.

This was underscored at the Brussels summit when a dramatic last-minute compromise over voting rights averted a Polish veto of the treaty that Germany had made a priority of its presidency in order to streamline the cumbersome EU system of decision-making.

It allows for decisions to be taken by majority rather than a unanimous vote and removes the threat of national vetoes. There are also provisions for a EU president and more powers to the EU's foreign policy chief, giving the bloc a bigger say in the world.

The new treaty has to be endorsed by an inter-government conference before it can be ratified and put in place in time for elections to the European Parliament in mid-2009.

But heated discussions on the fine print are anticipated before the government leaders give their assent after Portugal takes over the rotating presidency from Germany on July 1.

Portugal will also have the tricky task of overseeing how governments share the burdens of the Energy Action Plan agreed by the EU in March to tackle global warming.

Under the plan, EU leaders vowed to make a cut of 20 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, with the figure rising to 30 per cent if other industrialized nations follow suit.

"This will be very difficult for Portugal," said Maurer, who was critical of what he called the German policy of "proclaiming things" while leaving it to others to translate the words into action.

The EU agreement on climate change did allow the Europeans to speak in unison at this month's G8 summit in Heiligendamm and ensure the United States did not exploit any differences between them, Maurer said.

"Europe can once again look forward to a period of strength and confidence," Merkel told the European Parliament on Wednesday in her final speech as EU president.

The past six months also saw newcomers Bulgaria and Romania integrated into the Union and Berlin hosting a special summit to mark the 50th anniversary of the EU's founding treaty.

While reaping kudos for the energy plan and her blueprint to streamline the EU, Merkel was less successful on the foreign policy front where an agreement with the US to forge closer economic ties was her only tangible achievement.

Relations remained tense with with Russia, which supplies 20 per cent of the European Union's oil and 40 per cent of its natural gas. A summit in the Volga river town of Samara in May was marked by recriminations over human rights and failed to agree on a successor to the partnership accord that expires shortly.

Efforts to revive the flagging Middle East peace process were thwarted by developments in the region beyond the control of the EU and its partners in the international panel of mediators known as the Mideast Quartet.

The status of Kosovo remained another sticking point. The EU supports UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan to give the breakaway Serb province de facto independence under the supervision of the EU and other international institutions.

The Serbs, backed by Russia, want to grant the Albanian-dominated region only a broad degree of autonomy.

Relations with Turkey took a knock towards the end of the German presidency when French President Nicolas Sarkozy blocked talks on monetary and economic policy, a key element of Ankara's entry negotiations.

Polls show there is little appetite within the Union's 490-million population for a further expansion to include the Muslim nation after the bloc ballooned from 15 to 27 members in the past three years.

But it is the new European treaty that the Germany presidency is most likely to be remembered for. In the long term, Merkel's achievement will be that she helped the EU "recover from a phase of paralysis and despondency," said a government assessment of her performance.

DPA

Subject German news

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