By Jago Kosolosky
Heads of state and governments of the European Union member states gather today (June 27th, 2013) and tomorrow in Brussels for a EU summit which is said to focus on economic policy. However, much more is at stake at the gathering that unfortunately might end with a whimper instead of a bang.
Seemingly just another high level meeting of the bloc’s best and brightest, this summit just might make it in the history books as many issues have the potential of deeply affecting the future of the Union. The European Council has stated that efforts so far to boost competitiveness, jobs and growth in the region will be evaluated, this year’s European Semester will be concluded and progress on the completion of the EU’s economic and monetary union will be monitored.
And although President Van Rompuy’s, sent just a few days ago to the members of the European Council, focuses in a great deal on the fight against unemployment, mainly amongst young people, quickly this noble cause might be placed on the shelf as other issues demand an unfair share of the attention. This is a shame knowing how unemployment rates among people under 25 years old have skyrocketed in the Union since the world has been faced with the most serious depression since the 1930s. As a whole the situation is dramatic but in several countries calling it just that would be a severe understatement. Ireland went from 13.3% unemployment amongst people under the age of 25 in 2008 to 30.4% in 2012, Cyprus from 9% to 27.8% and Spain from 24.6% to a dazzling 53.2%. For all these countries 2013 promises to put even worse figures on the board. Another reason why the issue might easily be shelved is the July 3rd meeting on youth unemployment in Berlin which Merkel recently announced. Youth unemployment seems bound to be forgotten in Brussels when the cameras are rolling.
According to many observers, only modest progress is expected on all fronts during this last major event of Ireland’s EU presidency; this due to a lack of money, political will and sense of urgency. This is in line with the expectations of many in Europe, where animosity toward EU institutions is breeding and becoming increasingly visible in opinion polls and national politicians’ growing tendency to blame the EU for everything from high joblessness to budget strains. Finding the light at the end of the tunnel will only get harder as people increasingly try to block your view.
It is not just the public that seems to be losing faith in the bloc, as France’s Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg recently attacked the European Commission for telling them how to run their economy. Thank God there is still Germany, always ready to strong-arm other nations and muddle through towards an ever more integrated Union. Not this time, as Merkel, facing elections in September, has backed away from bold ideas for deeper European integration. It seems the campaign has already started as Merkel’s party recently called for a strengthening of German in Brussels in line with their 2009 program where they complained about the unequal treatment of the language compared to English and French.
Talk the talk
An issue that without a doubt will be discussed, despite the oversight of not scheduling it on the public agenda, is the long term budget for 2014-2020. As is the case every time the European Commission and the Parliament need to come to this package deal, the political game of chicken has been dragging along for quite some time. Near the end of June negotiators reached a provisional deal to finalize the European Union’s €960 billion budget. But ratification of the deal was instantly thrown into doubt by the head negotiator for the Socialist and Democrats group in the Parliament, who said he was not satisfied with the outcome. Unfortunately this group is the second largest in the Parliament and the agreement needs majority support to come into force as planned at the start of 2014. Further talks among MEPs and governments will be held alongside the Summit.
For months, this Summit has also been flagged by officials for another reason; it was to be the landmark on the road towards a fully-fledged banking union. By establishing stricter oversight of Europe’s banking sector and setting up a unified system for dealing with turmoil, EU officials hope to draw a line under years of piling up government debt through banks in their country. However, not much is expected to come out of the Summit at this front as the European financial markets are relatively calm, especially in comparison to last year when the stealthy promise of a banking union was made. Besides, the September elections in Germany do not allow Merkel to make any deal on this. Germans have been notoriously opposed to the idea of a banking union as the money planned to keep this union afloat has to come from somewhere and everyone is convinced Pablo or Alexandros will scarcely be able to chip in. This round would be on Hans for sure. Also, as the same government sitting around the table in Brussels just recently agreed to a modest economic step, earmarking up to €60 billion of bailout-fund money for ailing banks (coming into force late next year), this time progress is highly unlikely. These questions are said to be revisited at summits scheduled for October and December.
Latvian folk songs
Yes indeed, the country in Northern Europe which, according to Ask.com is famous for its folk songs, will be the talk of the town as it will become the 18th member of the Eurozone. The final decision will be made at this Summit after the European Commission gave its application the green light on June 5th and the European Union finance ministers waved through the bid not much after. Consultations by the Commission with the European Parliament took place and with the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee supporting the bid, nothing can go wrong.
Many additional factors make this Summit one for the books. The Czech delegation for example will still be lead by outgoing Prime Minister Petr Necas even though he resigned June 17th in an effort to end political turmoil over a corruption inquiry. Two former MPs, an ex-minister and the current and former heads of military intelligence were detained in the process. Ms. Nagyova, a close colleague of mr. Necas for many years, is suspected of illegally ordering military intelligence to spy on three people. Czech media have reported that the targets included Mr. Necas’s wife of which, as Necas recently announced, he is divorcing. Good call Petr, you would have needed a considerable amount of flowers to set that straight.
Though not often discussed in the media, another important decision will be made in the next two days; whether to start the accession talks with Serbia or not. April 19th, the country reached a historic agreement with Kosovo, currently listed as a potential candidate. A diplomatic deal seems to be in the making as at the same time the issue of signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo will be discussed. It seems that the European Union does not mind throwing some money in the playground if Serbia and Kosovo learn how to play together. There is no telling how the EU’s role will play out in the long run.