an enjoyable dinner at the aptly-named Europa Hotel at Gatwick, Michael Siebert, deputy
head of the Political Section at the German Embassy, treated us to the insiders view
of the German Presidency of the EU, just handed over to the Portuguese.
This was an up-beat assessment of their watch. Expectations were not just
fulfilled, they were surpassed, having originally hoped to get only as far as a road map
for a new Treaty. In fact the feeling now is that, with the new Treaty - hopefully to be
signed this year, ratified next year and implemented in 2009, the EU is out of the
institutional cul de sac and re-energised.
Michael Siebert noted the euro-projects where progress has been made over the past six
months, and where the restored ability to act will see more progress ahead.
||Climate and energy policies, (where the spring Council meeting
decisions, going for a low-carbon economy and pledging to reduce emissions by 20%, tie in
with the wider international debate with G8, US and UN);
||a few steps made in the Lisbon Agenda to liberalise more markets,
though no progress in the Doha Round;
||mobile phone prices and a reminder that low-cost flights,
much appreciated in this country, would not be possible without the EU;
||increased police co-operation, protecting citizens rights.
Touching on foreign policy areas, the difficult relations with Russia were noted, though
partnership is obviously in everyones interests. The need for an early warning
system for energy crises, and the problems of Polish meat exports to Russia have been
handed on to the Portuguese. No real progress in the ongoing major crises, Kosova, the
Middle East and Iran has been possible, but at least no new ones have arisen.
Romania and Bulgaria were welcomed in at the beginning of the six months. 7 new chapters
have been opened with Croatia, likely to become a member before too long. Germany, with
her borders far closer, is less enthusiastic than the UK over enlargement, and Angela
Merkels party is certainly not in favour of Turkeys membership, but the
process has been kept on track with 3 new chapters opened.
continued in right-hand column
(continued from column 1)
The Reform Treaty
Looking at the Reform Treaty in more detail, Michael Siebert noted that there was
something for everyone.
||For Germany, the substance was retained; for the UK the red lines
were respected with no transfer of sovereignty and hopefully they will ratify; for the
Poles it was not a complete success but over time it should work out.
||Despite the irrational feeling in the British public and press that
we will be governed by Brussels, transfer of competence was not the issue. The
main content of the charter is already present in existing legislation.
||The treaty is to be judged on whether it makes the EU more
democratic, more efficient and more transparent. The latter is the more difficult to
identify, but with voting for a President, co-decision-making, more scrutiny of
legislative acts by the EU and national parliaments, possible transfer of competences to
national level and participatory democracy (1 million signatures from European citizens),
greater democracy is assured.
||Greater efficiency will come from the newly created post of a
President of the Council, the identification of the voice of agreed policy for the outside
world the Foreign Minister by another name and the reduction of the
Commission from 27 to 15.
The hope is that we are now out of the doom and gloom era of
European politics. Opinion polls reflect an upward perception of Europe. This is not just
the result of the German Presidency. There are new leaders in place, there is an economic
upswing a real window of opportunity to bring this period of reflection to an end.
At the end of his review of Germanys
presidency, Michael Siebert generously dealt with wide-ranging questions from the floor,
everything from Kosovo, to the impact of China, the free movement of labour and the
relative positions of Germany and the UK with regard to sovereignty.
Notes on Michael Sieberts talk
contributed by Margaret Tuccori
11 July 2007
Michael Siebert also took part in an event jointly organised by
the Federal Trust and Chatham House a few days earlier on 5 July. Brief notes from
that discussion can be downloaded here:
Presidency: Marks out of Ten? (Word)