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Squabbling in the bunker
AS THE last wisps of tear gas drifted away, European Union (EU) leaders emerged from their bunker, the Acropolis conference centre in Nice.
Manny Thain reports from Nice
The summit, scheduled for two days, finally reached agreement after an 18-hour session on the fifth day. Yet the agreement from the longest EU summit ever resolved nothing.
The EU is a forum where each government fights for its own national, capitalist ruling class's interests. Where interests coincide, agreement can be reached, such as on implementing cuts in social welfare.
It is in European capitalism's general interests to form a continental economic bloc against the US-dominated North American Free Trade Agreement and Japan-led South-East Asia. Where European interests collide, however, the veil of unity is quickly discarded and bitter wrangles and recriminations follow.
Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, mindful of the imminent general election, was intransigent over tax and social security. New Labour will see the retention of the veto as a plus-point in the polls.
The main concern for the big four - Germany, France, Britain and Italy - was how to maintain their dominance over the decision-making process while enlarging the EU to incorporate mainly Eastern European states. If the structures aren't reformed, enlargement would shift the balance of power to smaller states - impermissible from the main players' viewpoint.
In the end, the big four actually increased their influence in the Council of Ministers, the EU's main decision-making body. Combining votes on the Council with a new rule stating that a vote needs to represent at least 62% of the EU's population, any three major countries could form a blocking minority even if the EU expanded to 27 members.
However, the reforms of EU structures finally agreed at Nice will only be implemented if the EU expands to 27 members.
But this expansion won't start until 2004. That's when EU ministers can look forward to a repeat performance.
In The Socialist 15 December 2000: