Thursday, June 16, 2005

Crisis! What crisis?

From the sublime to the ridiculous: we go for months without anything substantial in the MSM and then all of a sudden, the EU steams up the agenda to poll position. Suddenly everyone's an expert, even the dismal little BBC hackette who doesn't know the difference between the European Council and the Council of Europe, or the Newsnight producers who show a picture of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, to illustrate Paxo's point about the ECJ.

People who wouldn't know the difference between their A and C quotas, who haven't even heard of single farm payments or incremental modulation, and could not even tell what the EAGGF is, much less the implications of the move to the EAGF/EAFRD structure, are suddenly pontificating knowingly about CAP financing.

Cutting to the chase, therefore – without reminding readers that in the past few days, there have been more acres of drivel in the newspapers than there are fields under cultivation in the entire European Union – there are certain facts that can be rehearsed, prior to the bunfight in Brussels today that goes under the name of a European Council. (It is interesting how the French press seems quite happy discussing the "Conseil européen" but the British can only seem to manage "summit".)

Firstly, despite discordant squeaks from the sidelines saying otherwise, the CAP budget is fixed until 2013. It is not on the table, it is not amenable to reform until then – if ever – and hell will freeze over before Chirac or any other French president will let Blair touch it.

Secondly - the British rebate is safe as long as Blair decides it is, and is thus prepared to exercise the British veto. The indications are that he may give a little round the edges, doshing about €400 million to the accession countries, but overall, he is giving every sign that, otherwise, he will hold firm.

Thirdly, there is no budget crisis. The new budget settlement does not apply until 2007, which gives over a year to finalise the details. The commission can do its planning on the basis of fairly straightforward financial assumptions. Only the big-spending projects like the space research programme (€10bn a year) would need be put on hold. Even if the budget is not agreed next year, there is a "roll-over" provision, where the EU can call down funding based on previous year's calls.

Fourthly, there is no institutional crisis. All the existing treaties remain in place and the core provisions of the constitution, affecting voting rights and number of commissioners, were not scheduled to come into force until 2009 anyway. The Dutch and French referendum results have no immediate effects.

Therefore, there is no crisis. Now September 1939 – that was a crisis. This one? It is a little spat between technocrats and the drama exists mostly in their fevered brains, buoyed up by the ranks of gullible hacks who don't know any better.

My guess is that, today and tomorrow will prove to be a massive anti-climax. The word has gone out to "cool it" and the Council will be a non-event. The "colleagues" will shake hands or indulge in public snogging as the moods take them, and pose for the "family photo". Millions of air miles will be earned and several thousand tons of carbon dioxide will be dumped into the atmosphere.

We will get an opaque communiqué, which will say absolutely nothing, the dogs will bark and the caravan will steal away in the night. By next week, we'll all be wondering what all the fuss is about. The only sound will be the soft, steady march of integration, unchecked and unheeded. The hacks will have "done Europe" and be chasing Gandolf at the G8 summit – now that really is a summit.

As for "reform" – forget it.

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