- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

GENEVA A tense European Union (EU) ministerial meeting has revealed deep rifts, a feeling of being dwarfed by the United States and an inability to reach agreement on key issues.

Participants also complained that the huge and expensive administrative apparatus has failed to make the desired impact on the rest of the world.

Diplomats reported that the EU foreign ministers, meeting earlier this week in the French spa of Evian-les-Bains 25 miles from Geneva, admitted that the speed with which the euro, the EU's joint currency, was adopted was a mistake and cautioned against other precipitous moves.

One report circulating in this international conference center quoted Gunter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement, as saying that "the mistake of the euro should not be repeated."

It was the first time that a member of the community's ruling group admitted the failure of the EU's most significant achievement. The euro has dropped 25 percent of its value since its start on Jan. 1, 1999, amidst recriminations and complaints about the lack of specific economic guidelines for the 11 of the 15 EU nations participating in what has become known as the "euroland."

The euro has plummeted 4 cents against the dollar since last week, losing 4 and 1/2 percent of its value. Yesterday, it hit a new low of 86.35 cents.

In a closed session, the ministers reportedly relegated the process of the EU's enlargement to the December summit in the French Mediterranean city of Nice, amidst indications that the question might be further postponed.

Applicant nations awaiting the EU's decision on their membership include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. Some EU experts claim most of the candidates lack the necessary qualifications and have applied mainly in the hope of obtaining EU subsidies.

Some nations, particularly Cyprus, which is divided between its Greek and Turkish communities, want to join the EU mainly to obtain a permanent forum for their problems.

Proposals at the Evian meeting included an all-European referendum on whether the community is capable of accepting new members without damage to its economies and cohesion.

Mr. Verheugen reportedly cautioned that the EU should "not go over the heads of its citizens" in making far-reaching decisions. However, such an approach would be against the constitutions of some nations, including Germany.

Above all, questions were raised about the value of the EU's quickly proliferating institutions and their functions.

Several foreign ministers, including Italy's Lamberto Dini and Joseph Pique of Spain, reportedly complained about the excessive diplomatic and administrative institutions of the EU.

The final report of the closed meeting apparently stressed that the EU nations had 40,000 diplomats around the world compared to fewer than 15,000 for the United States and 1,500 diplomatic missions against some 300 for the United States.

Such massive diplomatic presence has failed to project Europe as a budding superpower, leaving the continent dwarfed by the United States, conference participants said.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook cautioned against leaving significant decisions to a "club" of major members, apparently referring mainly to France and Germany, which style themselves as the EU's "locomotive."

According to French diplomatic sources, the major thrust of the meeting was to limit the EU at this time to economic rather than political problems. The conclusion of the ministers was summed up by one source as "Europe yes, euro no."

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