- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

Ah, the grandeur of the European Union, where summits rise or fall on the virtues of member states' taste for cheese, and where an imaginary army can be created at the whim of the rotating president. The European Union summit in Brussels last weekend disintegrated after no agreement could be reached over which member states should host which new EU agencies. The union had convened to discuss the creation of an EU constitution, as well as a political convention to shape the course of the European Union, but it climaxed with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisting that the European Food Safety Authority be located in Parma rather than Helsinki as the Belgian prime minister and EU president, Guy Verhofstadt, had proposed. But for the fact that it recorded the prime ministers of Europe's most powerful nations discussing the future of the European Union, the summit transcript could be considered award-winning comic relief material.
"Parma is synonymous with good cuisine," Mr. Berlusconi said in the heat of a debate about the location of the food agency, according to diplomats. "The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this." To which Mr. Verhofstadt responded: "The gastronomic attraction of a region is no argument for the allocation of an EU agency."
French President Jacques Chirac, ever the selfless leader, tried to throw the excluded Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson a bone by proposing Sweden get an agency for the training of fashion models, "since you have such pretty women." One wonders what the women of Paris might have to say about that.
While the member states had heavier matters to consider than prosciutto and pretty women, the summit, which convened just two weeks before Europe makes the final transition to the euro, was sorely lacking in substance. Louis Michel, the foreign minister of Belgium, announced the creation of an EU peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. As yet, this is only a figment of his imagination; the rapid reaction force, involving 60,000 soldiers from all 15 member states, is not yet operable. Yet, Mr. Michel's surreal opinion was that if NATO wouldn't support the force, "it must declare itself operational without such a declaration being based on any true capability," the International Herald Tribune reported.
After all the squabbling, the European Union aptly recognized its need to define its agenda through a convention that will start in March, when tempers have cooled. A little seriousness is surely in order.

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