Eastern European leaders were elated yesterday as the European Union’s grueling five-day summit came to an end, but their western counterparts complained that the summit fell far short of its organizers’ early hopes.
Officials and analysts said the 15-nation summit, held in the French Riviera resort city of Nice, avoided a catastrophic breakdown but did not resolve fundamental organizational questions as the world’s richest economic club prepares to both deepen its internal links and take in up to a dozen new members.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, emerging from a night of closed-door horse-trading that ended just before dawn yesterday, expressed perhaps the only unchallenged verdict on the summit.
“We cannot do business like this in the future,” Mr. Blair said.
The summit, the capstone of French President Jacques Chirac’s six-month presidency of the EU, was designed to answer basic questions of power and sovereignty that have bedeviled the alliance.
The questions have become even more pressing as the EU contemplates going from 15 members to as many as 27, accepting a host of eastern and southeastern European countries and threatening to make the EU’s already creaky executive bodies unworkable.
EU hopefuls, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, yesterday rated the avoiding of complete failure in Nice as a success, arguing it kept their hopes of joining on track.
“To us, a breakdown would have been a disaster,” said a Washington-based diplomat for one of the largest EU hopefuls. “Enlargement certainly wouldn’t have been on the front burner any more if that had happened.”
Said France’s Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin: “If we had not succeeded, I think that for all the candidate nations this would have been really bad news.”
But Jeffrey Gedmin, executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative, which studies U.S.-European issues, said the reaction in Western Europe on the enlargement question has been more negative.
“For a lot of people here, the glass in Nice was half-empty,” he said in a telephone interview from Germany. “If there had been a real passion for enlargement, they would have made sure it would happen. Nobody here sees the summit as a roaring success, and the question is how much did they squeak away with.”
Mr. Chirac was the target of considerable grumbling yesterday over his handling of the summit, which many of the EU’s smaller countries felt was designed to enhance the clout of the alliance’s Big Three France, Germany, and Britain.
The summit fell far short of the radical rewriting of the EU’s institutions that Mr. Chirac originally sought.
“The French elephant has given birth to a mouse,” said Frans Timmerman of the Dutch Labor Party, part of the governing coalition.
Summit leaders finally managed to embrace a new power-sharing agreement, with a complex system of interlocking vetoes based on state and population majorities.
The proposed Treaty of Nice, which still must be ratified by each EU member, also expanded the number of issues in which majority votes instead of unanimous member votes are sufficient to move ahead, considered a key reform if the enlarged union is to function at all.
But Britain refused to give up its veto over EU taxation and pension policy. Germany demanded a veto over immigration issues. And Spain successfully lobbied to retain a veto over regional aid issues.
The most disappointed yesterday were those who favored a “deeper” EU taking on more and more functions traditionally handled by national and even local governments.
“I cannot conceal a touch of regret at the fact that we didn’t manage to do more,” said European Commission President Romano Prodi. He cited the failure to expand the field of issues subject to majority votes or revamp the representation in the commission.
John C. Hulsman, senior European policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, gave the summit participants a “gentleman’s C” for their efforts.
But he added that Nice had failed to address the EU’s “existential division” between those seeking a potential European superstate and those who see the alliance as a useful tool for independent European nations to work together on issues of common interest.
“There’s still this Mexican standoff about the EU because they didn’t answer the vision question,” Mr. Hulsman said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.