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Move on, Europe - and also back to the future

European Policy Centre

Date: 17/12/2007

This analysis assesses the outcome of the Summit, focusing in particular on the detailed discussions on two key issues - Kosovo’s future and the Reflection Group on ‘Europe 2020-2030’ - and considers the challenges which lie ahead for the Slovenian and French Presidencies in 2008.

Future historians will probably look back on the December 2007 European Council as a watershed in EU affairs, concluding an entire phase of EU politics and, in all likelihood, opening a new one.

The Summit brought to an end the cycle of institutional reforms initiated exactly six years ago at Laeken, near Brussels, with the famous Declaration that launched the Convention on the Future of Europe. With the formal signing of the Lisbon Treaty, a chapter in the European integration process characterised by recurrent Intergovernmental Conferences aimed at revisiting and revising the EU Treaties has come to an end.

The Presidency Conclusions agreed at the 14 December Council state very clearly that “the Lisbon Treaty provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework. We expect no change in the foreseeable future, so that the Union will be able to fully concentrate on addressing the concrete challenges ahead.”

In fact, this page will only be turned once and for all when (and if) the ratification process is successfully concluded, and the EU institutions will try their best - especially in the first half of 2008 - not to disturb or endanger that process in the Member States, especially those where the outcome may be in doubt. However, it is equally evident that the focus of EU attention is now shifting towards much more urgent and concrete policy issues, starting with the status of Kosovo (and its potential ramifications) and those topics already on the agenda for the March 2008 European Council.

This impression of a watershed in EU affairs was also visually and physically conveyed by the division of the Summit into two legs: the first in Lisbon, with the official signing ceremony for the new Treaty, and the second in Brussels, much shorter than usual and more businesslike.

Alongside very long and often very general statements on all sorts of themes (including globalisation, migration, climate change and development policy) and references to EU documents of mainly declaratory nature, the Presidency Conclusions include the results of two main sets of deliberations at the Summit: on the Balkans and on the follow-up (short and long term) to the Lisbon Treaty. 

The Kosovo conundrum

Events in Kosovo moved at a rapid pace in the week running up to the Summit, with the report delivered by the troika (EU, US and Russia) on 10 December on the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, and the decision taken by the Speaker of the Serbian Parliament (in the absence of an agreement between the government coalition parties) to set the first round of the presidential elections for 20 January, with a run-off in early February.

The EU was represented on the troika by Wolfgang Ischinger, the German Ambassador to London, and its report concluded that the two parties had not found a common ground on the key issue of a final status for the Kosovo province, but that progress had been made in terms of commitments on both sides to try to avoid an escalation of violence on the ground. The Foreign Ministers of the EU-27 took stock of the situation on 10 December and, after that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked once again for further negotiations.

As a consequence, expectations were high regarding what the 27 EU Heads of State and Government would decide on both the central issue - final status, i.e. some form of “controlled and contracted independence” for the province - and the pending EU civilian mission expected to replace the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in Pristina sooner rather than later.

The Presidency Conclusions delivered on 14 December are articulated around three elements. Firstly:

  • the EU-27 acknowledge that the troika achieved some results (commitments to restraint on both sides) but also “exhausted” its function: in other words, there are no more margins for a negotiated and bilaterally-agreed solution to the problem;
  • the EU-27 also acknowledge that a) “the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable”; and that b) there is a “need to move forward towards a [...] settlement, which is essential for regional stability”;
  • such a settlement will constitute “a sui generis case that does not set any precedent”;
  • “the EU stands ready to play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region and in implementing a settlement defining Kosovo’s future status” [italics added].

The consensus achieved on these initial elements was not a foregone conclusion: it did not exist a few months ago, and it looked in doubt even a few weeks ago. In other words, those countries which appear more reluctant to agree to some form of independence for Kosovo have now accepted this common approach.

A corollary to this, which is not echoed in the Conclusions but has been made explicit in a series of comments by politicians off and on the record, is the commitment to EU “unity and solidarity” if and when it comes to the crunch. In plain English, this means that a) recognition is presented as a national responsibility, not a joint EU one; and that b) those who may one day recognise Kosovo’s final status will show understanding of the motives of those who may not, rather than treating this as a major

political split. This may sound a little hypocritical, but it is probably the precondition for the Union moving ahead and playing a “leading” role on the issue.

The second element is represented by the decision to launch the civilian mission in the context of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). This is a primarily political decision, with the operational and technical details to be finalised at the first 2008 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on 28 January. It is no secret that preparations are in fact already well under way, with a preliminary budget agreed and recruitment for the 1,800-strong operation (including policemen, judicial experts and custom officials) in full swing.

Interestingly, the Presidency Conclusions stress the autonomous dimension of this EU decision, without making it dependent on a preliminary deliberation either by the United Nations Security Council or UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The message is quite clear: the ESDP mission will be launched anyway, playing on the generic wording of UNSC Resolution 1244 (establishing a “civilian international presence”) that still regulates the state of affairs in Kosovo; and deployment will begin in the first months of 2008, in parallel with the progressive downsizing and phasing out of UNMIK (already well under way too).

In other words, the EU-27 have decided unanimously to proceed, after many months of preparations, without waiting for a formal decision at the UN level, which remains blocked by Russian opposition. The calculation is also that this may eventually lead to some sort of ex- post facto recognition by the UN, thus facilitating the final handover to European Union Force (EUFOR) Kosovo and its appointed head, the Dutch EU Council official Pieter Feith. However, much will, of course, also depend on the discussion scheduled for 19 December at the UN Security Council.

The trouble with Serbia

The third element of this complex agreement among the EU-27 is centred on Serbia. After reaffirming that “the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union”, the Presidency Conclusions insist that Belgrade is a key factor for the stability and prosperity of the whole region. The European Council encourages Serbia “to meet the necessary conditions to allow its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) to be signed rapidly and, in the light of Serbia’s considerable institutional capacity and recalling its conclusions of December 2006”, it reiterates its “confidence that progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated” [italics added].

What we have here, in somewhat clouded diplomatic language, is the outcome of a serious discussion which took place among the EU-27 before and during the Summit.

On the one hand, there is the most explicit pledge so far to speed up Serbia’s path to “candidate” status (which the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia achieved a few years ago), thanks to its “considerable institutional capacity” and the fact that the SAA was ‘initialled’ a couple of weeks before the summit.

On the other hand, the reference to the December 2006 Conclusions was inserted at Dutch insistence at the last minute to reaffirm the conditionality still hanging over Serbia - namely, the request for “full cooperation” with the International Tribunal (ICTY) in The Hague in the hunt for indicted war criminals, which has to be met before the SAA is formally signed and the candidate status eventually granted. In the draft Conclusions circulated ahead of the Summit, that reference had curiously disappeared from the text, thus prompting more debate over lunch on Friday.

This more or less veiled offer of fast-track candidate status may well be seen as a ‘sweetener’ for Belgrade, considering the likely looming clash between the EU and Serbia over Kosovo - and, as such, it has already been rejected by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (who will most likely run against incumbent Boris Tadic in the forthcoming presidential elections).

However, the final wording of the Conclusions is evidence of the two-pronged strategy agreed by the EU-27 as a condition for reaching a consensus internally: preparation for some form of managed and phased recognition of a semi-independent Kosovo “led” by at least some EU countries, coupled with a commitment to go the extra mile quickly to accommodate Serbia in the European “family”, to quote the term used by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his final press conference.

Conditionality remains, in other words, but the emphasis is more on the visible rewards for compliance (which now include also a visa facilitation and readmission agreement) than on possible penalties for a lack thereof - in the belief that overcoming the gridlock over Kosovo, one way or another, will eventually also be beneficial for Belgrade.

Still, such a tentative roadmap is hostage to a regional and international context that remains full of traps and unknowns which could in turn disrupt the consensus achieved at the EU Summit. While the local authorities in Kosovo appear to have accepted the need to avoid any unilateral declaration, coordinate with the EU and the US, and wait until at least after the presidential elections in Belgrade (in order not to play into the hands of the radical/nationalist camp), the forthcoming UNSC debate could still trigger a crisis.

For its part, the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 28 January is squeezed in between the two rounds of the presidential elections in Serbia, i.e. at a very delicate moment in domestic politics: this may force the postponement of some decisions to late February or even early March - that is, until after the presidential elections due to be held in Russia and, no less importantly for the EU in this context, in Cyprus.

In the meantime, NATO has expressed its readiness to beef up its 16,000-strong military contingent in Kosovo if need be, to deter any possible escalation of violence on the ground, and a new General Prosecutor, the Belgian Serge Brammertz, is due to take over from Carla Del Ponte at the head of the ICTY in The Hague. These are all pieces that will certainly play a part in the intricate Kosovo puzzle in the weeks and months to come.

What’s on the horizon...

The other interesting aspects of the December European Council were mostly related to a number of points already raised at the Lisbon informal summit of late October, when the final deal on the new Treaty was reached.

The main one was the creation of what was originally called a group of “wise men” - ‘groupe des sages’, as President Sarkozy, its main sponsor, put it - with the task of launching a strategic reflection on the challenges confronting the EU in 15 to 20 years’ time. The name has been changed (the English expression “wise men” sounded politically incorrect, while the French version is gender-neutral) and a specific mandate negotiated under the auspices of the Portuguese Presidency.

As a result, the “independent” Reflection Group horizon 2020-2030 is now “invited to identify the key issues and developments which the Union is likely to face and to analyse how these might be addressed” in the longer term. These include “inter alia: strengthening and modernising the European model of economic success and social responsibility, enhancing the competitiveness of the EU, the rule of law, sustainable development as a fundamental objective of the European Union, global stability, migration, energy and climate protection, and fight against global insecurity, international crime and terrorism” [italics added].

Furthermore, “ways of better reaching out to citizens and addressing their expectations and needs” are to be included on the group’s already challenging menu - while the expression “inter alia” of course leaves additional room for interpretation and integration.

Perhaps more interestingly, the Presidency Conclusions spell out also what the Reflection Group will not deal with, namely “institutional matters, [...], a review of current policies or [...] the Union’s next financial framework”.

In essence, the mandate is a well-crafted compromise between different - sometimes opposite - inputs and demands, starting with President Sarkozy’s idea of addressing the future ‘frontiers’ of the EU (the issue is not mentioned in the mandate, but the French President insisted afterwards that it is bound to emerge at some stage, although not necessarily or exclusively related to Turkey’s EU membership bid).

The main focus of the group’s eventual output may well shift over time, adapting to the EU’s evolving agenda in the months and years to come. In fact, it is not expected to start its work before September 2008 - not least to avoid any ‘interference’ in  the Treaty ratification process - and is not due to deliver its final report to the European Council until June 2010, i.e. once the new institutional framework is (hopefully) in place.

As for its composition, the European Council limited itself to appointing the group’s presidency, a “triumvirate” (Sarkozy’s words again) composed of the former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez as chairman and two deputies, former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and the Finnish former CEO of Nokia, Jorma Ollila.

The Reflection Group - whose name replicates that used to describe the group created in the mid-1990s to prepare the ground for the Amsterdam Treaty and chaired by another Spaniard, former Foreign Minister Carlos Westendorp - will be enlarged to include six more members “selected from across the Union on the basis of merit” and probably coming, like the “triumvirate”, from different walks of public life. A list of possible names will be prepared by the chairman and vice-chairs and presented to the European Council “during the French Presidency”. No further details are given as to its internal organisation, bureaucratic and financial underpinning, and precise institutional location.

It is too early to evaluate what the group will be able, willing and allowed to deliver. On the one hand, some doubts have already been voiced about whether there is any real need for it (apart from meeting a French request intended to assuage domestic public opinion and dispel widespread fears about an ever wider Europe) and about its mandate, which seems at the same time too wide and too narrow to add real value to the European debate.

On the other hand, it may not be a bad idea to keep strategic reflection on Europe alive through a sort of semi-informal para-institutional bodythat may or may not become useful at a later stage. The “vision thing” - to quote George Bush Senior - is an indispensable ingredient of EU policy-making, and perhaps having a ‘parallel’ discussion on the long-term challenges for European integration could help - especially at a time when most political leaders across the Union prefer not to talk about new common projects and even less about “dreams”.

...and what’s around the corner

Last but not least, the Presidency Conclusions also devote a special paragraph to the European Security Strategy (ESS) delivered by the Union in December 2003, following the big transatlantic and intra-EU rift over the Iraq war. The Conclusions state that this document - still regarded as one of the clearest and best-articulated policy papers ever drafted in the domain of European foreign policy - “has proved very useful”. In light of “all the evolutions which have taken place since, in particular the experiences drawn from ESDP missions”, the European Council invites Javier Solana - the High Representative for foreign policy who supervised the drafting of the ESS - “to examine the implementation of the Strategy with a view to proposing elements on how to improve the implementation and, as appropriate, elements to complement it, for adoption by the European Council in December 2008”.

Yet again, the push to conduct such a review has come mainly from France, eager as it is to qualify its EU Presidency in the second half of 2008 as a major turning point in European integration and as evidence that “France is back” at the heart and head of the EU, after the difficult two years following the ‘No’ vote in the Constitutional Treaty referendum. However, France was not alone in making this request, with (in particular) Sweden - which will hold the Presidency, in turn, in the second half of 2009, as the third member of the new ‘trio’ (after France and the Czech Republic) - voicing similar demands.

Most experts argue that the basic structure and main analytical grid (global challenges, threats, policy responses) of the 2003 ESS still hold and have proved fundamentally right, particularly the demand for a “more active, more capable, and more coherent” Union in international affairs. What has happened since in the real world - terrorist acts inside Europe, state ‘fragility’ and unstable post-conflict situations, climate change and migration - may suggest some marginal shifts in emphasis but certainly not a radical re-think.

Still, a progress report delivered in conjunction with the (expected) end of the Lisbon Treaty ratification process may provide a useful opportunity to launch the implementation of the relevant Treaty provisions in this area with an appropriate analysis of the achievements and shortcomings of EU action to date. The fact that all this will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Franco-British St. Malo Declaration of December 1998 which launched the ESDP in the first place makes this deadline even more pertinent. Perhaps interestingly, while the title of the ESS was ‘A secure Europe in a better world’, the new

Declaration on Globalisation delivered at this European Council ends with a commitment to “a stronger Union for a better world”.

Regarding the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty proper, however, the Presidency Conclusions say next to nothing. They simply state that “technical work will start in Brussels in January on the basis of a work programme which will be presented under the authority of the incoming President of the European Council”.

This may look a bit surprising given the ‘grey’ areas in the Treaty which still require some clarification as to their implementation: one relevant example is the setting up of a European External Action Service (EEAS) intended to support the future double-hatted “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, with preparations set to start immediately after the signature of the new Treaty.

Yet the overwhelming impression is that, at this stage, the EU-27 want to avoid giving the impression that they take the Treaty’s ratification for granted and are already preparing the ground for the new institutions and procedures. It is likely therefore that the debate on these issues will be relatively muted and low-key until the spring, when it will become clearer if major problems may arise.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see which countries will ratify the Lisbon Treaty first. In 2004-05, the race was largely won by some of the new Member States, notably Hungary and Lithuania, in part thanks to their straight parliamentary procedures (simple majority in a single chamber). Now the general climate is different, of course, but the ‘race’ will remain exciting symbolically as well as politically.

Between 2007 and 2008

A year ago, few observers and even fewer practitioners would have predicted that, at the end of 2007, the EU would be ready to move on after having agreed on a new Treaty. In this respect, therefore, the year now coming to an end has been a good one for the Union.

In the first half, the German Presidency made the most of a short and narrow window of opportunity opened in early May by Nicolas Sarkozy’s election and masterminded a quick IGC avant lettre that made it possible to get a draft deal on the new Treaty in June, despite a number of constraints and national ‘red lines’ that seemed hardly compatible with one another.

The ensuing Portuguese Presidency has successfully ‘brought home’ that deal with only minor adjustments, navigating a course through a change of Prime Minister in London and an uncertain electoral campaign in Poland. It has also managed an amazing number of Summits with other major countries and regional groupings (Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, China, India, ASEAN and, above all, Africa), and concluded its semester with a smoothly-managed European Council.

In this, it has certainly been helped by the good cooperation between the Portuguese Presidency of the Council and the Portuguese Presidency of the Commission: though belonging to opposite political camps, José Socrates and José Manuel Barroso have worked well together, as their body language at the final press conference showed. This was not a foregone conclusion and could not have been taken for granted, as the experience with Italy in the second half of 2003 proved.

The achievements of 2007 - to which we should also add the forthcoming extension of the Schengen agreement to nine of the new EU Member States (all but Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania), thus covering an area of up to 3.6 billion km² - have also been made possible by the ‘trio’ Presidencies formula, which has worked particularly well between Germany and Portugal.

Now it is Slovenia’s turn. Slovenia is the first new Member State to take the EU helm since the 2004 enlargement. Its stint is coming at a delicate time, with the Kosovo ‘file’ high on the EU agenda. Less than two decades ago, Slovenia and Kosovo belonged in the same state structure, lying as they did at the opposite ends of the former Yugoslav spectrum in terms of economic and social indicators - and Slovenia was also the first republic to secede from the Federation, in 1991.

This will be a difficult test for Ljubljana, but at least Slovenia is familiar with the realities of the region and now has a tentative internal EU roadmap to follow. Still, this will probably be the defining issue of its Presidency.

Then comes France’s Presidency, sandwiched between two new Member States which, for different reasons, both prefer to leave Paris in charge of some sensitive internal EU matters, and coming at a moment when decisions will be required on a number of important pending issues.

The last time this happened, in late 2000, the result was not particularly brilliant. This time, however, France will not have to finalise a treaty, as in Nice, nor will it be conditioned by domestic ‘cohabitation’. On the contrary, it looks as if Nicolas Sarkozy - the “omni-president”, as some internal critics have dubbed him for his hyper-activism - will probably try to make France’s 2008 an “omni-présidence”.

The hope is that this will benefit the Union as a whole, also considering that it is likely to be the last fully-fledged EU Presidency before the Lisbon Treaty enters into force and does away with it, especially in external relations. The certainty is that 2008 will be a very interesting year for all Europeans.

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