IGC 2000 Watch (Part 1): Origin and Preparation
Desmond Dinan and Sophie Vanhoonacker

Editor's note: This is the first of a series which ran concurrently with the 2000 IGC and concluded with the signing of a new Treaty at the Nice European Council in December 2000. These four essays were written expressly for their publication in the ECSA Review. This series may be reproduced by educators for classroom use, with credit to the European Community Studies Association, ECSA Review (Vol.13, Nos.2-4, 2000, and Vol.14, No.1, 2001).

LEFTOVERS ARE RARELY APPETIZING, but need to be eaten anyway. Few member states have an appetite for the so-called Amsterdam leftovers but all agree that they must be tackled, especially in view of enlargement. Three key institutional issues--the size and composition of the Commission; weighting of votes in the Council; and the possible extension of qualified majority voting (QMV)--were left on the table in Amsterdam in 1997, apparently because national leaders lacked the physical stamina to resolve them during a marathon European Council.

The situation was more complicated than that. Small member states would not forgo a commissioner; most large member states would not forgo a second commissioner without being given more votes in the Council; a Dutch presidency paper on reweighting came too late in the conference; and few member states would agree to extend QMV significantly. It was easier to defer these matters to another IGC.

Enlargement had become the rationale for the 1996-1997 Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and institutional reform had become a yardstick for the EU's willingness to facilitate enlargement. By that measure the EU seemed indifferent to enlargement and the IGC was unsuccessful. Member states were in no hurry to revisit institutional reform in 1998, focusing instead on pressing issues such as EMU and Agenda 2000. Their complacency ended abruptly in early 1999 during the Commission resignation crisis when institutional reform suddenly became a hot topic. At the beginning of its presidency in January 1999 Germany declared that an IGC might take place in 2001; six months later the European Council proclaimed in Cologne that the IGC would begin and end in 2000.

Holding another IGC was one track of the EU's reform strategy. Internal institutional overhaul, primarily of the Commission but also of the Council, was the other. Commission and Council reform would be reasonably far-reaching, but member states remained unenthusiastic about a new IGC. Amsterdam was an unhappy memory: IGC preparation, negotiation, and ratification had taken far too long and the results were unsatisfactory. Opinion differed on whether IGC 2000 should be prepared by a pre-Amsterdam-type Reflection Group or a smaller committee of experts. Critical of the Reflection Group's usefulness, and unable to reach agreement on the composition of an expert committee, member states decided in June 1999 to let the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) do the preparatory work.

Nor could member states agree on the scope of the IGC. Cologne confirmed that negotiations would cover the Amsterdam leftovers, plus "any further Treaty amendments required, in particular relating to [other] European Institutions ." This gave an opening to those member states eager to widen the IGC's agenda, in particular by renegotiating the Amsterdam Treaty's provisions for flexibility--differentiated integration through closer cooperation among certain member states within the EU framework. Numerous unrelated agenda items, ranging from a revision of the common commercial policy (a cherished Commission objective) to budgetary reform (a cherished EP objective), were also floated by various actors at various times in subsequent months.

All member states agreed that two big issues, which had gathered momentum during Germany's presidency, should be dealt with in parallel with the IGC, possibly converging with it at the end. These were the proposed Charter of Fundamental Rights and the rapidly-emerging European Security and Defense Policy. The former would be negotiated in a unique inter-institutional setting involving national representatives, Euro-parliamentarians, and national parliamentarians. The latter would be negotiated by national governments because, as Finland's foreign minister revealingly remarked, member states wanted to discuss defense in an exclusively intergovernmental setting.

An IGC, of course, is not exclusively intergovernmental. The Commission participates fully (but cannot vote) and the EP is "closely associated" with it (IGC negotiators liaise with EP representatives). Caught up in its resignation crisis, the Commission was uninvolved in discussions about the IGC at the beginning of 1999. No sooner was Romano Prodi nominated to head the Commission, however, than he seized upon the IGC as a means to enhance his leadership within the college-to-be and the Commission's position within the EU system. He did so by asking a trio of experts, under the chairmanship of former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, to draft an "orientation paper" on the Commission's approach to the conference. As expected, Dehaene advocated a strong Commission role and an ambitious IGC agenda.

Prodi sought to use the Dehaene report to unite the new college behind a major political initiative and to force member states to negotiate far-reaching reforms. He was only moderately successful. Some commissioners resented what they saw as Prodi's attempted fait accompli. Ironically, his strongest supporter was Michel Barnier, a former (Gaullist) French minister for European affairs who assumed responsibility within the Commission for the IGC. The two Britons, by contrast, urged caution, fearing that a forceful approach would antagonize national governments. They were right. Thus the Dehaene report (October 18) marked the high-point of Prodi's overt ambition on the IGC front. The Commission's report to the presidency (November 10) was more restrained than the Dehaene Report, and the Commission's official opinion on the IGC (January 26) was slightly more restrained than the report to the presidency, but was nonetheless far ahead of most member state positions.

This did not endear Prodi to the more assertive EP, whose own deliberations on the forthcoming IGC were nevertheless characterized by serious divisions between and within political groups. MEPs' preferences for a narrow or broad agenda seemed in many cases to mirror those of their own governments. It was with some difficulty that the EP adopted a resolution on the IGC (November 18) and a short, pro-forma opinion on it (February 3). Although more ambitious than the member states' and the Commission's positions, the EP's resolution and opinion were, by parliament's own standards, quite moderate.

As the Finnish Prime Minister discovered during a tour of national capitals in the run-up to the Helsinki summit, most member states were either hostile (notably Britain, France, Spain, and Sweden) or indifferent (notably Germany) to the idea of a broad IGC. Their concerns were both substantive and procedural. Substantively, some of them opposed initiatives that might lead to deeper integration. Procedurally, they sought to limit the agenda in an effort to ensure the IGC's completion by the end of the year. Although eager also to complete the IGC on time, the Benelux countries made a last-minute effort, in a joint paper to the presidency in early December, to swing support behind a broad agenda. While sympathetic to the Benelux position, Finland took what was then the course of least resistance and, in its presidency paper, advocated a less ambitious approach. Following a lively debate in Helsinki (December 10-11), the European Council endorsed the Finnish position but added in its conclusions that "the incoming Presidency may propose additional issues to be taken on the agenda of the Conference."

Within a few weeks the new Portuguese presidency cleverly exploited this opening. It was pushed by the Belgians and Dutch, who made a compelling case for renegotiating flexibility: of the Amsterdam leftovers, a trade-off between the size/composition of the Commission and the reweighting of votes in the Council could probably be agreed among member states, but agreement to extend QMV would be much harder to achieve. Without such an agreement, decision-making in an enlarged EU could be paralyzed. Already, in an EU of fifteen member states, unanimity led to indecision and frustration, as the on-going saga of the European Company Statute demonstrated. Flexibility was the only alternative to more widespread use of QMV. But as long as member states could veto closer cooperation, the procedure seemed unworkable. Therefore, why not scrap the "emergency brake" applicable to closer cooperation and reduce the threshold for participation in it to a minority of member states?

By themselves the Belgians, Dutch, and Portuguese would not have succeeded in putting flexibility firmly on the agenda. The Commission's and EP's support--as outlined in the their respective opinions on the IGC--was helpful, but not crucial. What proved decisive was the willingness of France and Germany to go along with them. They did so because they realized that a radical extension of QMV was highly unlikely, and that relaxing the flexibility rules could therefore be advantageous. Britain was unenthusiastic about both extending QMV and renegotiating flexibility, at least until the existing treaty provisions for closer cooperation had been fully tested. By contrast, Italy announced on the eve of the conference its eagerness to revisit flexibility.

Thus, as the conference opened on February 14, most member states agreed that flexibility should be reexamined as part of a badly-needed reform of institutional procedures. Going beyond the Amsterdam leftovers, other agenda items would undoubtedly be raised and perhaps formally introduced during the IGC itself, if only to facilitate a global package deal at the end. All of the actors agreed that the conference should finish by December 2000, at the European Council in Nice. The record of IGCs past suggests that such deadlines are usually met, although often at the expense of unfinished business (e.g. the Amsterdam leftovers) or unsatisfactory agreements on contentious issues (e.g. the Social Protocol). One thing at least seemed certain: the IGC would end in an intense bargaining session among the heads of state and government on intricate institutional issues. Less certain was the impact on the IGC of an unexpected and unprecedented event: the imposition by other member states of diplomatic sanctions against Austria following the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in government in early 2000.

What conclusions can be drawn from the IGC's origins and preparation? First, this is an IGC unlike any other. It is motivated not by a momentum for greater integration but by the need to address unfinished institutional and procedural business. Although complex and potentially divisive issues, the Amsterdam leftovers (plus flexibility) comprise a relatively discrete agenda. Because of its focus on institutional representation and voting weights, the IGC threatens to expose a hitherto latent cleavage in the EU: that between small and large member states. The inclusion of flexibility may ameliorate that divide by focusing attention on another cleavage: unable and/or unwilling member states vs. willing and able member states.

Second, developments so far reinforce an intergovernmentalist perspective on major EU decision making. Member states, not supranational institutions, are the key actors. Yet it is the smaller member states that have so far done most of the running. This will probably change as the IGC progresses, when the stakes rise and especially when France takes over the presidency in July 2000 (for the first time in EU history, a big member state will preside over the negotiation of major treaty changes). The combination of a French Presidency, a French Commissioner with responsibility for the IGC, and a de facto French head of the Council Secretariat will be interesting to observe.

Third, IGC 2000 is inherently unsatisfying and indigestible. Voting weights, the size and composition of the Commission, and the scope of QMV are undeniably important issues, affecting as they do such key procedures and principles as decision-making, coalition building, efficiency, and legitimacy. However, they are intrinsically uninteresting to a non-specialist audience. By dealing only with the Amsterdam leftovers or even with a broader agenda, the IGC threatens to turn into a caricature of the EU itself. By their nature IGCs are arcane in any case, but IGC 2000 has the potential to reinforce a negative stereotype of the EU at precisely the time when the EU needs some positive publicity. Hence the importance for the EU of linking the IGC in the public mind with internal reforms already underway, notably in the Council and the Commission. In particular, the EU must continue to improve the quality of its governance not simply by reconfiguring numbers, but by making its institutions more open and accountable.

Key Documents

Council of the European Union. Efficient Institutions After Enlargement: Options for the Intergovernmental Conference. Presidency Report. Brussels, December 7, 1999.
Dehaene, Jean-Luc; Simon, David; and von Weizsacker, Richard. The Institutional Implications of Enlargement: Report to the European Commission. Brussels, October 18, 1999.
European Commission. Adapting the Institutions to Make a Success of Enlargement: Commission Opinion. Brussels, January 26, 2000 [COM(2000)34].
European Commission. Adapting the Institutions to Make a Success of Enlargement: Commission Report to the Presidency. Brussels, December 3, 2000 [COM(1999)592].
European Council, Presidency Conclusions: Cologne European Council, June 3-4, 1999.
European Council. Presidency Conclusions: Helsinki European Council, December 10-11, 1999.
European Parliament. Resolution of the European Parliament on the Convening of the Intergovernmental Conference. Strasbourg, February 3, 1999.
European Parliament. Resolution of the European Parliament on the Preparation of the Reform of the Treaties and the Next Intergovernmental Conference. Strasbourg, November 18, 1999.
Memorandum Benelux concernant la CIG et les reformes institutionnelles. December 6, 1999.

Key Website

Intergovernmental Conference 2000:http://europa.eu.int/igc2000

IGC 2000 Watch (Part 2): The Opening Round

Editor's note: This is the second of a series which ran concurrently with the 2000 IGC and concluded with the signing of a new Treaty at the Nice European Council in December 2000.

THE PORTUGUESE PRESIDENCY'S PAPER on the IGC, prepared for the Feira Summit of June 19-20, 2000, is a discouraging document. Its 118 pages of tables and text (admittedly including a lot of blank spaces) illustrate the complexity of the institutional issues on the agenda, the deep divergence of opinion among member states, and the extent to which the IGC has yet to get off the ground. Negotiations to put together a package deal on the Amsterdam leftovers and related institutional questions have not really begun. Instead, the nine Preparatory Group meetings and four ministerial meetings of the IGC held under the Portuguese presidency have been exploratory sessions in which each delegation has laboriously outlined its positions. Nor have the two discussions on the IGC at the level of the European Council--at Lisbon in March and Feira in June--amounted to much, although the Feira European Council endorsed a presidency recommendation to include closer cooperation formally in the IGC's agenda.

Closer cooperation was already included implicitly in the IGC because, under certain circumstances, its use is conditional on a unanimous decision in the Council (meeting in the form of the Heads of State and Government). The triggering mechanism for closer cooperation was therefore one of many items automatically included in the IGC's coverage of the possible extension of qualified majority voting (QMV). Given the sensitivity and potential importance of closer cooperation, however, most member states were unwilling to approach it in such a restrictive and technical way. Some of the more integrationist of them, as well as the Commission and the European Parliament (EP), had raised the possibility late last year of including closer cooperation in the IGC in its own right. The momentum to do so gathered pace in the first round of the conference, culminating in a discussion of it at the informal (Gymnich-type) foreign ministers' meeting in the Azores on May 6-7. By the time of the Feira summit, even the most skeptical member states (Britain, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden) conceded that closer cooperation should indeed be on the agenda.

The arguments in favor of loosening the enabling clauses for closer cooperation (i.e. making flexibility more flexible) are intellectually unassailable but politically controversial. Regardless of how far QMV is extended as a result of the IGC, recourse to a functional method of closer cooperation seems essential in an ever-larger, more diverse EU. Without it, the EU is in danger of stagnating or disintegrating, and the more integrationist member states will be tempted to cooperate more closely outside the Treaty framework. Counter arguments that an extension of QMV would obviate the necessity for recourse to closer cooperation, that the existing provisions should not be altered until they have been shown in practice to be unworkable, that a revision of closer cooperation would alarm applicant countries, and that closer cooperation could undermine the internal market highlight the need for credible assurances and safeguards concerning the purpose and consequences of less-restrictive enabling clauses. A compelling rationale for a revision of closer cooperation, produced in March by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (a Dutch government-sponsored Think Tank), gave ample ammunition to advocates of that option behind the scenes at the IGC.

Apart from the intrinsic merits of revising the enabling clauses, closer cooperation emerged as a key item in the IGC because of the link that it represents between a conference otherwise devoted to narrow--albeit politically important--technical changes, and a growing debate outside the IGC on the EU's future. Jacques Delors initially launched the debate, before the IGC began, with calls for an avant garde of member states to accelerate the pace of European integration. Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, two elder statesmen whose reputations belie the reality of their limited enthusiasm for European integration when they were leaders of France and Germany, made a similar call in a widely-reproduced newspaper article in April. The debate did not take off, however, until Joscha Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, advocated a new form of European federation in a speech in Berlin on May 12.

Fischer's speech was born of frustration: frustration with the poor state of Franco-German relations; with a lack of vision and leadership in the EU; and with the slow pace of enlargement. Undoubtedly he was frustrated also with the IGC. Ministerial sessions were perfunctory, while confidential reports from the Preparatory Group can only have irritated a foreign minister noted for flair and imagination. For their part, many members of the Preparatory Group were equally frustrated, prevented as they were in the narrow confines of the conference from seeing the broader picture. By stressing the importance of closer cooperation as a building block for a future EU federation (whether or not that federation ever materializes), Fischer indirectly injected some life into the IGC.

More important, perhaps, Fischer challenged France publicly to revive its axis with Germany in order to provide joint leadership in the IGC and in the EU as a whole. Eager to ensure the success of its upcoming Council presidency and having privately approved the Fischer initiative, the French were eager to do so. An informal France-German summit in Rambouillet on May 19 proved unusually fruitful, as did the regularly-scheduled biennial summit in Mainz on June 9. There France and Germany decided to act in concert in the IGC and announced an agreement in principle on the main agenda items. No details of the agreement emerged, however, ostensibly because of sensitivity to the other member states (France and Germany did not want to be seen to be presenting a dikta). It is equally plausible, however, that in practice France and Germany are having difficulty reaching an agreement on a final IGC package. Despite seeing eye to eye on the need to reduce the Commission to a maximum of 20 members and to revise the closer cooperation clauses, they remain quite far apart on how to reweigh Council votes and reapportion EP seats and on how far to extend QMV, not least because Germany has not yet formulated its own position on these issues.

Needless to say, the presidency paper was anodyne in the extreme. It did not mention the Franco-German axis and alluded only slightly to the wider debate on the EU's future. Nor, in its extensive treatment of the discussions so far, did it identify any member state by name. Instead, reminiscent of the report of the Reflection Group that met before the 1996-1997 IGC, the presidency report repeatedly referred to "most delegations" or "some delegations," and occasionally to "a majority of delegations" or "one delegation." Similarly, it reported "broad agreement," "fairly broad agreement," "no significant support," and, on a rare occasion, "almost unanimous agreement" on the plethora of issues under discussion. Informed observers could read between the lines and figure out which member states stood where. In general, the report gave a strong impression that decisions were still a long way off on the Commission's size (one Commissioner per member state or a restricted Commission?) and internal structure (a Commission of equals or a hierarchy?); the modalities of weighted voting (simple reweighting or a double majority based on population and number of votes?); the extension of QMV (into all or part of sensitive issues such as taxation, social security and the environment?), the possible extension of the co-decision procedures (to most decisions that are subject to QMV?), and the allocation of seats in the EP (maintain categories of delegations and allocate seats accordingly or apportion seats strictly on the basis of population?). On these and other issues, there is a wide divergence of opinion among member states.

The presidency report did not refer either to the IGC's potential to divide the EU into ins versus outs (on closer cooperation) and big versus small (on the Commission, EP seats, and Council votes). In fact, the emerging divide is between original and subsequent member states, a divide reinforced by the closer cooperation and QMV issues. The original Six are conspicuous by their advocacy of closer cooperation (they see themselves as the EU's natural avant garde) and greater recourse to qualified majority voting. But they are deeply divided on questions of institutional representation, especially in the Commission. The original three small member states (like the small member states that joined later) are determined to keep their right to nominate a Commissioner. This is the most visible and politically-charged issue in the IGC. It will take considerable skill on the part of the French presidency and the Franco-German axis to maintain the cohesion of the Six as the EU's unofficial core group by reconciling the big-small divide among them.

As expected, there is almost no public interest in the IGC, despite occasional media alarms about the loss of a "national" Commissioner or a precipitous decline in a member state's EP representation. Commission efforts to foster a public debate on the IGC turned into a parody of EU elitism: the inaugural "Dialogue on Europe," held in Brussels on March 8, was attended almost exclusively by stagiares (well-connected young Europhiles doing internships in EU institutions). Yet public opinion haunts the IGC in the form of the pervasive fear of a ratification crisis. Member states that usually ratify treaty changes by referendum are desperate to avoid having to do so at a time of rampant public cynicism about the EU. Concern about ratification is also one of the main reasons why many member states want to minimize the possible treaty changes, being discussed outside the IGC, needed to flesh out the Common European Security and Defense Policy.

The German Laender are the other ghosts at the IGC. The Laender mobilized in the early stages of the conference to demand a strict delimitation in the treaties of regional, national, and EU competences. Given their ability to thwart ratification by rejecting the IGC's outcome in the upper house of the German parliament (the Bundesrat), the Laender are extremely influential. Pressure from the Laender is shaping Commission President Romano Prodi's promised white paper on EU governance, and accounts in part for the timing and content of Fischer's speech. Both Prodi and Fischer have signaled their willingness to address the Laenders' concerns as part of a long-term reconceptualization and reorganization of the EU, hoping that in the meantime the Laender would go along with the results of a much more limited IGC.

The EP is more involved in this than in previous IGCs, although for the first time the EP's powers will not be enhanced appreciably by the IGC's outcome. Two MEPs (Elmar Brok and Dimitrios Tsatsos) participate in the work of the Preparatory Group: the EP calls them "representatives;" the member states call them "observers." They have not been particularly influential in the discussions to date. Because they report frequently to the EP and the media, the MEPs are an important source of public information on discussions within the Preparatory Group (much to the chagrin of some national delegations). A short report by Brok and Tsatsos to the EP just before the Feira summit, on the IGC's progress to date, is well worth reading.

Brok and Tsatsos were at a disadvantage early in the conference because the EP had not yet adopted a comprehensive report on the IGC pursuant to its brief opinion of February 3. Differences within and among the EP's political groups on a variety of possible agenda items delayed adoption of the report until April 13. By that time the report contained demands which Brok and Tsatso, having participated in the Preparatory Group for two months, knew to be unattainable. Nevertheless Brok and Tsatsos have pushed, for instance, for a more radical extension of QMV than seems likely to happen, and for the even less likely application of the codecision procedure to all QMV decisions.

The Commission has adopted a more realistic approach than the EP, although its influence inside the conference is less than might be inferred from the high profile outside it of Michel Barnier, the Commissioner with responsibility for the IGC. This is partly because of the relative strength of intergovernmentalism in the EU at the moment, compounded by the weakness of Prodi's leadership. A major Commission initiative, to simplify and restructure the treaties, is a victim partly of poor timing and partly of the member states' impatience with the Commission. Even the Commission recognizes that the report on reorganizing the treaties, which it solicited from the European University Institute, is unlikely to have a bearing on this IGC.

The Portuguese are relieved to hand over responsibility for managing the IGC to a new presidency. Francisco Seixas da Costa, Portugal's State Secretary for European Affairs, worked hard on the opening round of the conference, often without much backing from the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, whose priorities for the presidency lay elsewhere. There is widespread unease in most member states--not only in the small ones--about how the French presidency will handle the IGC. The French made it clear that they did not want their hands tied by the Portuguese presidency report, and their maneuverings with Germany suggest that a reform package to conclude the IGC will be in the works. The French may not have any scruples about merging their national interests with the Council presidency's prerogatives, but other member states are unsettled by that prospect.

The wild card in this IGC may not be the French Presidency, pervasive Eurocynicism, or resurgent German regionalism, but the on-going Austrian question. This has already had a direct bearing on the conference, albeit of a minor nature (there is a proposal to amend Article 7 TEU on the suspension of a member state's rights in the event of a "serious and persistent violation" of the EU's fundamental principles). More important, the Austrian government is seething against the sanctions imposed by the Fourteen, whose unity on the matter is far from solid. This is a festering sore in the EU, which erupted at the Feira summit and will erupt again in Nice unless the Fourteen find a mutually acceptable way out of a political dead end. The potential consequences for the IGC, and for the conduct of everyday EU business, are obvious and disturbing.

Key Documents

Brok, Elmar and Dimitrios Tsatsos, Summary of the proceedings of the Intergovernmental Conference between 14 February and 6 June 2000 on the eve of the Feira European Council to be held on 19 and 20 June, European Parliament, Notice to Members, Brussels, June 7, 2000.
European Commission, Supplementary Contribution of the Commission to the Intergovernmental Conference on Institutional Reforms: Qualified majority voting for Single Market aspects of the taxation and social security fields, Brussels, March 14, 2000.
European Commission, Supplementary Contribution of the Commission to the Intergovernmental Conference on Institutional Reforms: Reform of the Community Courts, Brussels, March 1, 2000.
European Council, Presidency Conclusions: Feira European Council, June 19-20, 1999.
European Parliament. Report on the European Parliament's proposals for the Intergovernmental Conference, Brussels, April 13, 2000.
European University Institute, Reorganization of the Treaties: Final Report, Florence, May 11, 2000.
Intergovernmental Conference on Institutional Reform: Presidency Report to the Feira European Council, CONFER 4750/00, Brussels, June 14, 2000.
Philippart, Eric and Monika Sie Dhian Ho, The Pros and Cons of 'Closer Cooperation' Within the EU: Argumentation and Recommendations, Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), Working Document 104, The Hague, March 2000.
Report of the Reflection Group on the Future of the Judicial System of the European Communities (Due Report), Brussels, February 4, 2000.

Most IGC official documents, including presidency papers on specific agenda items, are available at www.db.consilium.eu.int/cig/

IGC 2000 Watch (Part 3): Pre- and Post-Nice

Editor's note: This is the third of a series which ran concurrently with the 2000 IGC and concluded with the signing of a new Treaty at the Nice European Council in December 2000.

DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS of the new French presidency, the IGC continues to languish. Like all incoming presidencies, the French projected an image of vigor and ambition. Unlike other incoming presidencies, this was Gallic vigor and ambition. Greater experience and superior diplomacy would triumph where earlier Portuguese efforts had failed. The French announced a fuller schedule of IGC meetings, including a new format: four ministerial conclaves (in addition to the monthly ministerial sessions on the margins of the General Affairs Council) before the decisive Nice summit in December. The first conclave took place on July 24. It was indistinguishable in format and result from earlier ministerial sessions. Then the IGC followed a quintessentially French custom by taking a break for the full month of August.

The IGC resumed in September with formal Preparatory Group and ministerial meetings, a brief discussion of IGC issues at the foreign ministers' informal (Gymnich-type) meeting in Evian, and a general discussion in the ECOFIN Council of the possibility of moving to QMV for specific EMU provisions. Every formal IGC agenda item, including for the first time closer cooperation, was discussed at official and ministerial levels. Yet the delegations' positions remained largely as they had been at the end of the Portuguese presidency. If anything, some positions hardened, such as the small member states' insistence on continued representation in the Commission. This was largely a reaction against strong French pressure (national rather than presidential) to cap the Commission's size at fewer members than there will be member states.

The contours of a possible agreement are difficult to detect. The Commission's size is potentially the most politically charged issue, because it is the one to which most people can relate. The extension of QMV is the most complex. Building on the work of the Portuguese presidency, the IGC is sifting through a list of nearly forty "provisions worth examining with a view to a possible move to [QMV]." Most of these are being considered for QMV as they stand; only specific aspects of the rest (dealing with issues such as taxation and social security) are being considered for QMV. Denmark is particularly skittish about making any concessions on QMV in the run up to the referendum on the euro, on September 28. Regardless of the special Danish situation, it is hard to predict at this stage what the final list of new QMV measures will look like.

Britain, Denmark, and Sweden remain wary of closer cooperation lest it deepen integration, which is precisely what its proponents say that they want it to do. Spain, Greece and Portugal are wary of closer cooperation lest they never catch up with those who cooperate more closely. Nevertheless a consensus seems to be emerging on the acceptability of new enabling clauses, including a removal of the veto and a minimum threshold of eight participating member states, hedged with reassurances about the acquis communautaire and the institutional integrity of the Union.

Delegations seem to agree also on the need to give larger member states more voting weight, through either a "dual majority" (of votes and population) or a simple reweighting of votes, but the modalities of each option are contested. Together with the Commission's size, to which it is linked in the Amsterdam Treaty, this is the issue that most divides large and small member states. It may also divide France and Germany, if Germany demands more votes than France.

So far, negotiations have not even begun in earnest. They will probably not do so until the run up to the Nice summit, or even during the summit itself. As most agenda items are interlinked, there is some scope to make trade offs and package deals. In contrast to the SEA and Maastricht negotiations, however, where cohesion policy was also on the table, there is no possibility in the current IGC to make side payments to recalcitrant member states. An important circumstantial roadblock to a possible agreement was removed when the Fourteen decided on September 12 to end sanctions against Austria. Had they not done so, and had Austria gone ahead with its proposed referendum, the IGC's prospects would have been seriously jeopardized.

The French have staked the success of their Council presidency on the conclusion of a successful agreement in Nice. By what measure will they judge an agreement successful? Senior French ministers have said that "a bad agreement would be worse than no agreement," that the outcome must be more than a "minor reform," that they will not accept a "lame compromise," and that the IGC must not result in a "third-rate deal." These seemingly strong statements nonetheless give the French a lot of wiggle room. How many treaty provisions would have to be so moved to QMV in order to constitute a successful outcome? How much more flexible must flexibility become? How radically must the Commission be reorganized? How far-reaching must the reallocation of voting weights in the Council be?

In a paper prepared for the sixth ministerial meeting of the IGC on July 10--the first ministerial held during its presidency--the French outlined in wooly terms the essentials of an agreement: a "significant" extension of QMV; a distribution of votes that reflects "more accurately" the weight of member states; measures for Council decision making that would have "more legitimacy in the eyes of the population;" clauses to put in place a Commission "whose action is legitimate and efficient;" and workable provisions on closer cooperation that would respect "the requirements of consistency and solidarity of an enlarged Europe."

Judged by such standards, the French will be able to describe as successful almost any agreement. They will be sorely tempted to do so, and not simply to crown their presidency in glory. Like the other member states, the French know that failure to reach agreement would further weaken the EU's credibility and send a hostile message to the countries negotiating membership. The IGC's rationale is to prepare the EU institutionally for enlargement, just as Agenda 2000's rationale was to prepare the EU budgetarily for enlargement. Nobody would seriously claim that the Berlin agreement was optimal for the EU, just as nobody (not even the French) will claim that whatever emerges from Nice is optimal for the EU. But both agreements will serve the essential political purpose of signaling the EU's willingness, however reluctantly, to facilitate enlargement.

The Nice agreement (if it comes about) will end an important stage in the enlargement process while opening an equally important stage of the EU's political development. Musings about the EU's future, spurred on by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's speech last May, reached their zenith this summer with a contribution by French President Jacques Chirac. In a highly symbolic speech in Berlin, in the new seat of the German Lower House, Chirac countered Fischer's federalist vision with a neo-Gaullist call for a geographically defined and constitutionally delimited post-enlargement Europe, based on the sanctity of the nation state, the supremacy of the Franco-German axis, and the primacy of a "pioneer group" of member states.

While the President of the Republic appeared to soar above the fray, his hapless government was left grappling with mundane EU affairs, including presiding over the slow-moving IGC. Both agree, as do the other participants in the renewed debate on Europe's future, that substantive discussions about appropriate political models, new modes of governance, protection of regional rights (a cherished German objective), whether to constitutionalize the treaties (perhaps along the lines of the European University Institute's proposal), where to put the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and what to do about defense policy must await the outcome of the current IGC. Nor must they become a pretext to delay enlargement. Such weighty political questions constitute the EU's "post-Nice" agenda. Perhaps the "Nice leftovers" would be a better name for them.

Key Documents

Best, Edward, Mark Grey and Alexander Stubb, Rethinking the European Union: IGC 2000 and Beyond, Maastricht: European Institute of Public Administration, 2000.
"Notre Europe," discours pronounce par Monsieur Jacques Chirac, President de la Republique, devant le Bundestag, Berlin, 27 June 2000, at www.elysee.fr/disc.

Most of the presidency documents prepared for Preparatory Group and ministerial meetings are available at www.europa.eu.int/comm/igc2000/geninfo/index, approximately ten days after they are circulated at the IGC.

IGC 2000 Watch (Part 4): Long Live the IGC

Editor's note: This is the fourth and final in a series, written expressly for the ECSA Review, on the Nice Intergovernmental Conference.

THE IGC IS OVER; long live the IGC. There will be another one in 2004. The Germans are already calling the next IGC the "competences conference" because, among other things, it will attempt to delineate power in the EU between the "Brussels" and national levels of government, thereby allowing so-called constitutional regional authorities (such as the Laender in Germany) to protect their own governmental authority vis-a-vis the national and EU levels. If not a Nice leftover, this issue could be called a Nice spillover, as impending enlargement inevitably triggered discussion outside the IGC about the EU's overall direction and future constitutional form. Annex 4 of the Treaty outlines an agenda for the 2004 IGC that includes the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, simplification of the Treaties, and the role of national parliaments in EU decision making. Nevertheless, the German government insisted in the closing stages in IGC 2000 on a future conference in large part to ensure that the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German parliament in which the Laender are represented) would ratify the Nice Treaty. For their part, the Laender are less interested in protecting their position in the EU than in enhancing it within the German federation, although both goals are closely linked.

The possibility that there would be a treaty to ratify received a boost in early December, a week before the Nice summit. A short statement by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, after his pre-summit meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, hinted that a deal would indeed emerge. "We have agreed," Schroeder is reported to have said, "that we will agree." Up to that point there was considerable speculation that the summit would collapse because of French insistence on maintaining equality of weighted votes with Germany, despite Germany's population being almost twenty-five million more than France's. The reweighting of votes turned out to be the most contentious issue in the closing stages of the IGC, especially during the summit itself, and not only between France and Germany or between the big and small member states.

As Schroeder implied that it would, Germany accepted parity with France: 29 votes each, along with Britain and Italy, the other two countries traditionally in the "big" member state cluster. This concession to Chirac may have seemed magnanimous, but was a small price for Schroeder to pay for maintaining Franco-German harmony, especially as the introduction of a demographic safety net of 62% of the EU's total population for a qualified majority gives Germany significantly more voting weight than France. Surprisingly in view of its insistence before the summit on emerging from Nice with as many votes as France, Spain accepted two votes fewer, presumably in return for concessions elsewhere, notably the temporary continuation of unanimity for the distribution of structural funds. That left the real row on reweighting, in the final hours of the summit, between two "small" countries: Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgium's last-minute effort to maintain parity with its Benelux partner demonstrated that national pride is not the prerogative of large member states, particularly France. It also showed that the "big-small" member state divide masks equally deep divisions among the small member states themselves.

The changes with respect to QMV--the reweighting of votes, the raising of the qualified majority threshold from 71% to 73.4%, the introduction of the demographic safety net, and the new stipulation that a qualified majority of weighted votes correspond to a simple majority of member states--will have an effect on the dynamics of Council decision making. The larger member states will have relatively greater voting power than they currently have and will find it easier to put together coalitions to form qualified majorities and, especially, blocking minorities. As was pointed out frequently during the IGC, the EU rarely if ever splits over policy issues along big-small member state lines. Therefore the reallocation of votes agreed to at Nice strengthens the large member states individually rather than collectively. Conversely, the smaller member states emerged from Nice individually relatively weaker. One thing, at least, is certain: because it is by far the most populous member state, Germany will be the most sought after coalition partner in the course of EU legislative decision making.

As promised in Amsterdam, in return for greater voting weight in the Council the large member states gave up the right to nominate a second Commissioner (as of 2005). Like the modalities of reweighting, the Commission's eventual size remained unresolved until the Nice summit. The large member states' call during the IGC for a Commission having substantially fewer Commissioners than there will be member states caused a revolt of the small countries. This broke out spectacularly over dinner at the Biarritz summit on October 13. In defense of one Commissioner per country, small member states cited the Commission's fragile legitimacy and the political necessity of maintaining representation on the EU's executive body. The latter argument called into question the Commission's supposed independence of national governments, but played well domestically (it was one of the few issues in the IGC that attracted public attention). By contrast, the large member states' willingness occasionally to forgo any representation on a restricted Commission, as part of an equitable rota system, suggested to some of the smaller countries that their larger counterparts wanted to weaken the Commission's authority. Would France take seriously a Commission in which it was not represented? The deal struck at Nice maintains the formula of one Commissioner per member state up to a ceiling of twenty-seven Commissioners/member states, with the introduction thereafter of a rota whose modalities have yet to be specified (this implicitly constitutes a Nice leftover).

The remaining Amsterdam "leftover"--the extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) to areas hitherto covered by unanimity--was also unresolved as the Nice summit began. Between them, the member states were unwilling to relinquish unanimity in most areas under discussion. Britain, Ireland, and Luxembourg, for instance, refused to budge on taxation. France agreed to extend QMV in the common commercial policy, but only after winning an exemption for the audiovisual sector on the grounds of cultural protection. Altogether, about thirty areas were moved from unanimity to QMV, including a few that are not legislative. These include the selection by the European Council of the Secretary General of the Council Secretariat (who is also the High Representative for foreign and security policy) and, surprisingly, of the Commission president and the president's proposed college of Commissioners. These changes may be more significant for the precedent they set regarding the use of QMV in the European Council than for their impact on the Council Secretariat and the Commission. Overall, the agreement reached on QMV was disappointing, but hardly surprising. After all, a process such as the IGC that allows member states to veto moves to life the veto in areas where they wish to retain the veto is unlikely to yield much success.

Closer cooperation came late onto the IGC's agenda and was implicitly linked to the possible extension of QMV (closer cooperation would allow groups of member states, thwarted by the exercise of a national veto, to press ahead themselves in relevant policy areas). It was surprising, therefore, that closer cooperation was successfully wrapped up (with the exception of its application to defense policy) well before the Nice summit began, at a time when the extension of QMV was still up in the air. Concern about the possible impact of closer cooperation on EU cohesiveness quickly gave way in October and early November to appreciation of its potential for greater integration, to the benefit of all member states. Agreement among member states to remove the de facto national veto on closer cooperation and to permit its implementation with a minimum of eight member states proved unexpectedly easy to reach. Closer cooperation is the most intriguing element of the Nice package, both in the way that agreement on it was reached and the use to which it might be put. Governments may not have been dissembling when they claimed that they did not know exactly how closer cooperation would work. Far from providing a vehicle for the emergence of a "pioneer group" or avant garde (as advocated by Chirac and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, respectively), closer cooperation may simply facilitate movement in a variety of policy areas among groups--rather than a single group--of like-minded member states.

Other institutional changes included the raising of the ceiling of 700 members in the European Parliament (set in the Amsterdam Treaty) to 732. Despite this increase, the sizes of most national delegations of existing member states were cut (Germany's was the notable exception) in order to facilitate the inclusion of delegates from the acceding member states. A larger EP is likely to be even more unwieldy than the present parliament, and smaller national delegations (both absolutely and relative to the EP's new size) are unlikely to bolster the institution's appeal among national constituencies in current member states. The EP's powers remain largely unaffected by Nice, the member states having brushed aside the EP's demand that the codecision procedure should apply to all legislative decisions taken by QMV (whether in the existing or revised treaties). The Nice Treaty finally does away with the cooperation procedure, which after Amsterdam was applicable to only four aspects of EMU decision making. In a further rebuff to the EP, member states agreed to change the decision making procedure for these four issues to consultation with the EP, not co-decision.

Was the IGC worth it? If you believe the official line, that the IGC was necessary in order to prepare the EU institutionally for enlargement, then clearly the IGC was not worthwhile. As in enlargements past, the modalities of institutional representation for the acceding states could have been decided in the accession negotiations themselves. More important, the institutional reforms agreed to in Nice will not make an enlarged EU any easier to operate, with the possible exception of the provisions for closer cooperation. Nor will the EU's institutional mechanisms be any easier for EU citizens to comprehend. The real significance of the IGC is that, having been linked explicitly to enlargement, agreement in Nice--any agreement in Nice--became politically imperative for the EU in order to signal to itself, to the applicant countries, and to the rest of the world that it was serious about accepting new members. Failure at Nice would have been a political disaster for the EU.

Short of a root and branch treaty-based reform--a political impossibility in the EU--the key to improving the EU's functionality during and after enlargement is large-scale internal institutional reform. This is already underway, but is progressing slowly. It began in the Commission after the Santer resignation crisis in early 1999. It began at about the same time in the Council, when member states finally confronted the Council's manifest procedural problems. A short passage in the Nice Presidency conclusions calling for an acceleration of internal reform, as well as two reports presented to the Nice European Council--a Commission report entitled "Better Lawmaking 2000" and a joint Presidency-Council Secretariat paper on making the codecision procedure more effective--are arguably as significant for the manageability of the EU after enlargement as are the institutional innovations in the Nice Treaty.

The IGC, and especially the Nice summit, provided plenty of evidence of member states behaving badly. The large member states, in particular, seemed to be ganging up on the smaller ones. This raised the specter of rampant intergovernmentalism in the EU, and of a small clique of large countries seizing political control. This is a misleading impression. First of all, IGCs are by definition intergovernmental and member states should be expected to behave accordingly. Second, the real reason for the IGC was to strengthen the voting power of the larger member states to compensate them for the relative loss of their voting power as a result of enlargements past and in anticipation of enlargements future. In return, the larger member states agreed to give up their second Commissioner. This was the bargain struck in the closing hours of the Amsterdam summit in June 1997 and publicly proclaimed in protocol number seven of the Amsterdam Treaty.

The large member states have been duly compensated, perhaps not as much as they would have liked or perhaps more than the smaller member states would have liked. Either way, this does not presage the end of the "Community method." For a variety of reasons unrelated to IGCs, the institutions' roles are constantly changing in the EU system. In some areas the role of a particular institution may be strengthening, in others weakening. In as much as it describes the triangular relationship between the Council, Commission, and EP, the Community method is dynamic, not static. Any observation of it should also take into account the growing importance of the European Council, an institution that, because of the Commission president's participation in it (remember Jacques Delors' triumphs in the European Council?) and because of the Nice Treaty's introduction of QMV into its deliberations, is by no means strictly intergovernmental.

Who knows what the EU will look like in 2004, at the time of the next IGC. The Nice conclusions contained a "soft" political commitment to enlargement by that time, although everything depends on how the accession negotiations proceed. The Nice Treaty should be ratified within two years. Given that enlargement was the rationale for the treaty, and that to oppose enlargement is tantamount to being unEuropean (whatever one's position on the EU itself), it is unlikely that there will be noteworthy public or parliamentary opposition to ratification in the member states (despite the unpopularity of enlargement). Nor is it likely that the EP will block the treaty, which it could attempt to do politically (through an alliance with the Belgian and Italian governments) but not legally. There is a risk that Euroskeptics will try to block ratification of the Nice Treaty as a means of derailing preparations for the 2004 IGC, which are due to begin with preliminary reports during the forthcoming Swedish and Belgian presidencies. Although Euroskeptics should favor an IGC that will deal largely with subsidiarity, they are extremely wary of the "Fischer factor"--the possibility that the more integrationist member states will use the next IGC to advance Euro-federalism. In order to ensure smooth ratification of the Nice Treaty, therefore, there will likely be an absence of Fischer-like meditations on Europe's future for the next couple of years. Only then will the "post-Nice" debate about a possible finalite politique, a debate begun several months before the Nice summit, resume in earnest.

The draft Treaty of Nice is available on the Website of the Council Secretariat: http://ue.eu.int/cig/nice/.

Desmond Dinan is Associate Professor, School of Public Policy, George Mason University. Sophie Vanhoonacker is Senior Lecturer, European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht.

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