You read it here first. The top-secret plan on how to enlarge the EU to include central and eastern Europe does not exist. Not in Brussels, not in London or Paris, and not even in Bonn. Nobody has a clue how to organise a union of 25-plus member states including former and not-so-former communist countries. No one wants to pay for eastern enlargement. And everyone-bar the British and Swedes-fears that tampering with the common agricultural policy will trigger a peasant’s revolt.
Fresh thinking might have been expected out of the caravan of civil servants and ministers, a.k.a the Reflection Group, charged with preparing next year’s inter-governmental conference. But they copped out long ago. Carlos Westendorp, the Spaniard who chairs the group, is a master dissembler; but he cannot hide the truth. His report on institutional reform, which will go to the December EU summit in Madrid, is an exercise in timidity.
What is on offer to the central Europeans is “Platonic membership,” says Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, the chubby Polish minister for European affairs. Saryusz-Wolski has almost given up on bedding the west Europeans. The most he can hope for is extended foreplay, better known as the EU’s “pre-accession strategy.” Vaclav Klaus, the Czech leader, is just as disgusted. Klaus thinks the Czechs are at least as qualified as the Greeks to be members of the Union. For once, he’s understating his case.
The west Europeans are simply not serious about letting the east Europeans into their rich man’s club. They’re not even serious about letting them into their meetings. Last year, six east European foreign ministers turned up in Brussels for a “structured dialogue” with their counterparts. They were told to wait outside because of hitches in the EU’s enlargement negotiations with Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Several cups of tea and one or two glasses of vodka later, they were told: “Sorry guys, no time to talk tonight, better take the next plane out of town.”
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One man who ought to be upset by the drift on eastern enlargement is Hans van den Broek, the former Dutch foreign minister who holds the portentous title of EU commissioner for external political affairs. Van den Broek is as dull as ditch-water; a pedant who spends his time fretting about being invited to the right international meetings.
His real interest is Bosnia, but the Americans have relegated the Europeans to bit-players, at least until it is time to shell out for reconstruction. (All the hype about the new transatlantic partnership will come to nothing if the Europeans don’t stump up enough for Bosnia.)
Van den Broek inherited the eastern European portfolio from Sir Leon Brittan a year ago-but Hans has been invisible ever since. The word inside the Commission is that the Dutchman is secretly opposed to early eastern enlargement. He’s refusing to deal promptly with the central Europeans’ applications for membership, and declaring that the subject has no place at the IGC. Now comes final confirmation that the Dutchman has lost his marbles: he’s just appointed hard-man Sipka Brauwer, his former chef du cabinet, to run the 1.3 billion ecu aid programme for central Europe.
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The appointment of Brauwer to a senior position in the Commission is one more indication that the cabinet or private office system is out of control. The other is the likely appointment of Fran?ois Lamoureux, chief of staff to Edith Cresson, to the even more senior job of deputy director general for eastern Europe to replace the talented Robert Verrue. Lamoureux is another hit-man with a talent for office politics.
All commissioners have seven officials each in their private offices. Their job is to advance their master’s cause inside the bureaucracy. But too often the word of an upstart cabinet member counts for more than that of the seasoned senior civil servant. Witness the sudden removal of Peter Wilmott, the British director general responsible for indirect taxation whose achievements over the past five years have included the abolition of VAT controls at the EU’s internal frontiers.
Wilmott’s fall is being blamed on Enzo Moavero Milanesi, another self-styled hard man who serves as chef du cabinet for Mario Monti, the Italian commissioner for the single market. Milanesi, it is said, was not prepared to put up with a plain-speaking Brit and urged Monti to take a stand. Monti, a brilliant economist who is more image-conscious than Georgio Armani, is now whingeing about the bad publicity, particularly in his favourite British publication, The Economist.
Conclusion: Monti not only sacked the wrong man, he’s in the wrong job. He would have been much happier running the monetary affairs dossier which went to Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the French technocrat. But as Monti reflected ruefully last year: “Can you honestly imagine an Italian being in charge of Emu?” n