The smaller states objected to Giscard's intention to create an E.U. presidency to replace the current scheme, under which heads of government each serve a six-month stint as
Is This A New Improved E.U.?
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing wants to dramatically reshape the way the E.U. works. Here are some of his most controversial proposals:
Create an E.U. President
The President would be elected by a "qualified majority" of the European Council, which is made up of E.U. heads of government, to serve a 21/2-year term, renewable once. Presidential candidates must be, or have been for at least two years, an E.U. head of government
Create an E.U. Foreign Minister
This new post would be filled through qualified majority voting by the European Council
Create a Congress of the Peoples of Europe
This new body would have consisted of national and European parliamentarians who met to "provide a forum for contact and consultation in European political life." But protests from the European Parliament led to the idea being dropped from the final version of Giscard's proposal
Streamline the European Commission
The Commission, which currently consists of 20 commissioners, including the President, would be reduced to 15 commissioners, aided by as many as 15 associate commissioners. The Commission President would be chosen by the European Council and approved by the European Parliament.
But Giscard was having none of that, either. His plans would reduce the Commission's importance by putting what many hope will be the E.U.'s most significant activity foreign and security policy firmly in the ambit of the European Council. Many fear that the Commission, which considers itself the protector of E.U. treaties, would be transformed into a mere administrator of social and economic matters. And under a revamped voting formula in the Council of Ministers, where national representatives meet to agree on common E.U. policies, larger states could easily ram through or block legislation.
Giscard even wanted to set up a new body the European Congress made up of national and European parliamentarians. The Congress was intended to meet only occasionally to debate constitutional and policy issues. But many M.E.P.s, the only E.U. representatives directly elected by voters, worried that the Congress would usurp some of their roles. "This [plan] would undermine the checks and balances in place among E.U. institutions," the Commission declared in a strongly worded statement. "It could lead to unequal treatment of member states and this would jeopardize the trust between them."
Virulent opposition to the plan prompted a classic Brussels response: a marathon negotiating session at which the most controversial proposals were either removed or diluted. Gone was the European Congress, as well as the suggestion for a presidential secretariat that critics feared would have rivaled the Commission. Reijo Kemppinen, a spokesman for the Commission, concluded that the result was not quite a "working document" but a "useful working basis." But resentment toward Giscard's high-handed tactics is still rife. "We spent months doing nothing but talking about trivial matters," says Johannes Voggenhuber, an Austrian Member of the European Parliament and a Convention delegate. "He has lost the confidence of the majority of the members and discredited this body."
There's no doubt that the Convention's task is real and urgent. To prevent gridlock, the E.U. must streamline its decision-making processes to accommodate the addition of 10 new members. But there's also something surreal about last week's deliberations. Giscard's call for an E.U. Foreign Minister, for example, seems optimistic at best in light of the rancorous splits about the war in Iraq. The Convention has important work to do, but it seems its head is still in the clouds.