Friday, September 17, 2004

The European idea

The International Herald Tribune offers an interesting commentary to add to our earlier Blog on EU attempts to regulate the car parts market. "The commission’s proposal may seem arcane", reports the IHT, "but is important because it affects everybody in the EU who owns a car".

If Europe's 450 million citizens are ever going to love the grand European project - which for many people remains a distant, nebulous, even irrelevant concept - then it is through practical initiatives like this one, which could slash the cost of car repairs. The only problem is that, despite the Commission's fanfare, the proposed reform will probably never happen.
Suggesting that, "on the face of it… the proposal is a triumph for the 'European idea'", the IHT picks up on the fracas between German EU commissioner Günter Verheugen, his supporters, French commissioners Pascal Lamy and Jacques Barrot, and the Slovakian Jan Figel, ganging up against Frits Bolkestein who has at last succeeded in getting the proposal through the commission.

But the brutal reality is that national interests do matter, and this split between the common European good and national interests is the fault line that runs through Brussels.

Now the "European idea" is to be tested in into the crucible of the Council of Ministers, where it will be exposed to the full glare of national vested interests. Germany and France will almost certainly do their best to stop it - and what Germany and France want in the EU, they usually get. As one senior Commission official states: "This is going to go nowhere in the council. It will be killed by France and Germany. The same in the Parliament."

What the IHT doesn’t say, of course, is that too is the "European idea". It was always pre-ordained that this axis would run the show, and despite rumours to the contrary, that idea is very much alive.

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