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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Unexpected Consequences 

It looks like the recent bombings in Madrid, blamed on al Qaeda, will have the unexpected effect of helping the European Union streamline its decision-making processes, bringing the countries of Europe closer to developing a unified foreign policy, and potentially, in the long run, standing as a counterweight to the US in world affairs.

The BBC is reporting the latest development in the ongoing and extremely confusing saga of the EU's new charter. Basically, what's going on over there is a fight over who gets how much power in one of the EU's main institutions, the Council of Ministers. It's similar to the fight over the structure of the US Congress back in the early days of this country, with small states wanting to avoid being outvoted by big states, and big states calling for voting power proportional to their size.

The new charter, if adopted, would also create two new positions for Europe (Foreign Minister and President) and would "oblige" the member countries to support a unified foreign policy (though it's unclear what this would mean in practice). It's not immediately clear whether these changes would really create a single European foreign policy. On the other hand, it might be a lot tougher rhetorically for, say, the UK to side with the US against the EU President than against a selection of other European leaders.

Interestingly (and in my view coincidentally) the two biggest holdouts on approving the new charter have been Spain and Poland, among the strongest backers of the US during last year's debate over Iraq. Both of these countries have disproportionate voting strength under the current system (adopted in 2000), and have been unwilling to give up such a cushy arrangement. But Spain's Socialists appear to value the development of the EU project more than getting the biggest seat possible at the table. And now Poland is backing down from its demands, too, ostensibly because it doesn't want to shoulder the full blame if the new constitution is never adopted. It should be interesting to see what kind of compromise gets hammered out, but even more interesting is that al Qaeda may have inadvertantly strengthened the EU as a force in the realm of war and peace, with who knows what long-term consequences.

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