A panel of experts discussed the future viability of the European Union and the effectiveness of attempts at European integration In a roundtable discussion last Thursday.

Jeff Anderson, a visiting professor from Brown University with the BMW Center for German and European Studies, began the exchange with a brief overview of the series of Inter-Governmental Conferences leading up to last December’s European Union conference in Nice, France. Anderson said the European Politics leaders convened in Nice to discuss “leftovers” from a treaty drafted in Amsterdam in 1997, where they met to restructure EU institutions expansion into central and eastern Europe and the editerranean. Paraphrasing this complex and lengthy process, one panelist quipped that these “leftovers” turned out to be a “full course meal.”

Karl Cerney, professor emeritus of the government department at Georgetown, focused on the lack of improvement in decision-making structures of the EU at the negotiations in Nice. Specifically, he highlighted that the ever-present “proneness to veto” remained in the institutional framework the European Union, making it much easier for positive initiatives to be vetoed than to be ratified. He expressed concern that this tendency, along with the European Commission’s recent decline in influence, could impair efficient decision-making. Despite this concern, he expressed a certain optimism for the future of Europe, emphasizing the possibility that many problematic issues will be resolved in the next IGC, planned for 2004.

Dr. Paul Taggart, a visiting scholar from the University of Sussex, addressed the issue of what results the summit meeting in Nice had on the citizens of European Union countries, calling the IGC a “quasi-constitutional convention” run by European elates.

He focused on two concerns which will come to the forefront with the “enlargement” Europe, where the EU, currently composed of 15 member states, could include more than 30 members following the acceptance of new members. He stressed Europe’s cohesion, maintaining that existing political, cultural and economic convergence between member states has worked to keep the process of European integration moving. He questioned what sort of diversity is present in the EU, whereby some states are prepared to move forward with the integration process more quickly than others that are either unwilling or unable to do so. As an example of this, he cited Denmark and the United Kingdom’s refusal to participate on economic integration. Nine of 15 EU states have already done this. Effective January 2002, the Euro will replace their national currencies.

Taggart concluded that the summit meeting in Nice did not increase the democratic accountability of Europe but rather represented a slowing-down of the “deepening” process. Despite this assessment, he noted that IGCs seem to be the best road to effective reform, concerning both institutional reform, and that which makes the EU more friendly to its citizens.

Speaking as a witness to the last four Inter-Governmental Conferences, Belgian Ambassador and the Former Head of the European Commission Hugo Paemen, noted that they have all been “complicated” and “messy,” characterized by overblown expectations and anticipation of the resolution of problems from previous conferences. He emphasized that, despite the initial disappointments of each, they served as building blocks to later negotiations. Nice, he said, was not an exception. He further said that the EU has numerous issues to deal with in a short span of time: restructuring the European economy, adjusting both national and European institutions, expansion and the complications of implementing the Euro as a hard currency at the beginning of 2002. Paemen said that the EU has a difficult task ahead of them: to provide for coherent, efficient and democratic international development in the wake of ever-increasing diversity inside its borders. He emphasized that the EU has to do these things “not because they want to, but because it has come upon them.”

The process of “European Integration,” began following WWII. After a series of negotiations involving Woodrow Wilson and other European leaders, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris, thus establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. ECSC is now recognized as the forerunner of what is today the European Union. In 1991, the Treaty of Maastricht established the EU in its present form. The Treaty of Amsterdam focused on improving the Union’s institutional framework, in anticipation of the enlargement of the Union from its present 15 members to as many as 32. The mission of the EU is “to organize relations between the Member States and between their peoples in a coherent manner and on the basis of solidarity.”

Approximately 50 members of the Georgetown community attended the exchange, entitled, “European Integration on the Road from Nice.”

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