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- Let the biggest rule!

- Let the six largest EU states govern the EU! Only in this way can the EU emerge from the paralysis that occurred when the French and Dutch voters voted no to the EU Constitution.


That is the message of Nicolas Sarkozy, France's finance minister. The six largest EU states, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland, must be "The engine of the new Europe." The other 19 Member States are allowed to decide whether to accept what the six are in favor of. If they accept it, they are part of the new Europe. If they do not accept it, they stand outside.

That way we can "Without institutional reform, two weaknesses in today's Europe will be remedied: Europe would be able to act, and would be able to act under the leadership of responsible politicians, not of anonymous bureaucrats."

Thus, Sarkozy had fired in two directions: against all smaller countries that do not accept such a great power empire – and against the European Commission in Brussels.

An EU in jeopardy

Sarkozy is no one in French politics. He is the leader of the government party UMP, the large party on the right-hand side in French politics. And he is, in his own eyes, the self-proclaimed heir to the party trap Jacques Chirac in the 2007 presidential election.

The reason for the proposal for Sarkozy is an EU in jeopardy. The draft constitution was rejected by the French and Dutch voters, so it is the rules of the Nice Treaty that distribute seats and votes in the various EU institutions. There are rules that the major EU states have put a lot of effort into changing through the draft constitution. Yes, they made the changes a prerequisite for the EU to take in ten new member states in May 2004.

Expand – or not expand?

But there is much else that has brought the EU into a series of decision-making crises. For example, it will take a long time for the EU to digest the effects of enlargement to the east. The EU's flow of goods, services and labor now applies between countries with dramatically much larger differences in income, living conditions and standards in working life. Low wages and poor working conditions are far more effective competitive advantages than before in both the East and the West – and can trigger strong nationalist reactions in the West – and equally unpleasant counter-reactions in the East.

It is therefore uncertain whether the EU dares to include more new member states. Membership is promised to Romania and Bulgaria, and negotiations are now starting with Turkey and Croatia. Other Balkan states are also advocating membership. The previous enlargement had overwhelming support among most people in the EU. New extensions may not be available.

Liberalize – or not liberalize

The problems are exacerbated because the EU is in a period of weak economic growth and high unemployment. At the same time, the EU leadership must state that the so-called Lisbon process, the one that should make the EU the world's “Most dynamic and competitive area” has gone completely off track.

The EU still has no other answer than to compete out of unemployment – and is affected by the fact that EU companies compete much more with each other than with companies in other continents.

EU governments are confused about whether to pursue even more liberalization, or whether more liberalization will only trigger social protests that hit them in the next election. The heads of government will discuss this at an EU summit to which Tony Blair has been invited.

Large countries are stretching the rules

The monetary union of twelve of the EU member states contradicts its own rules, and there is great disagreement as to whether it is the rules that are wrong or whether those who break the rules are taken too lightly. The requirement that public deficits must never exceed three per cent of the national product is, of course, extra meaningless when the economy lags and unemployment rises.

That is why Germany and France have so openly and for so long broken the rules. They have dropped sanctions because of support from Britain and Italy, two countries that are also struggling with the same three percent demand.

But what happens then to a monetary union where mutual solidarity in budgetary policy is a prerequisite for it to work? And where most small countries so far are more loyal than the big ones?

The France-Germany axis

Until now, the France-Germany axis has been the political center of gravity in the EU. What the top leaders in France and Germany have agreed on has very often been EU policy. The reason is not that France and Germany have always had overlapping views, on the contrary. They have often had divergent interests. But precisely because of this, the governments of the two states have been concerned with finding solutions that have been acceptable to both of them. Once this compromise has been presented to the rest of the EU, it has been difficult to push it aside.

This German-French governance was both the engine and the brake on EU development. It was the engine when the two agreed to push on (Schengen, monetary union, enlargement to the east). It was a brake when the two agreed to hold back (change in agricultural policy).

Destroys for the big ones

With 25 member countries, the room for maneuver for other large EU countries has also increased. To secure themselves, Germany and France have increasingly invited other large EU countries into the heat. In the face of important decisions, the United Kingdom – and sometimes Italy – have taken part in meetings to find common positions.

Such prejudices have on several occasions provoked smaller EU countries to open protest, including from Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Ireland.

This time it is the Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, who has come out most clearly: "It is nonsense to introduce a directorate of large member states."

Can steer a long way

The six largest EU states all today have great influence in the EU. They have a total of three quarters of the EU population. They have majorities in the Council of Ministers (170 out of 321 votes) and in the European Parliament (441 out of 732). They have a majority in all the standing committees of the European Parliament and have the leader in 20 of the 23 committees. They also have a majority in all party groups in the European Parliament except in the left-wing socialist group.

If the six major states stand together, they can therefore go a long way in controlling developments in the EU. But not without the support of other countries. Decisions in the Council of Ministers presuppose that at least half of the states vote in favor of the decision and that they have at least 232 of the 321 votes. The big six must therefore bring with them at least seven other states with a total of at least 62 votes.

Progress and power

But in this game of votes, it gives bargaining power to be able to prevent decisions. One or two major countries can do this if they can collect 90 votes against the decision. This prevents the big six from emerging as a permanent bloc within the EU. It is sometimes too tempting to prevent decisions that affect one's own interests too harshly.

Sarkozy wants an end to this negotiating game. The big six get to stand together. Then the other 19 will find themselves in it. It gives the EU momentum – and still significant power to France.

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