Will October's 'make-or-break' EU summits deliver?
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Key EU meetings in October might well thrash out the details of the 'banking union', the 'fiscal union' and a 'federation of nation states'. But, then again, they might not. Ouráresident satiristáSchadenfreude gives his prediction of how the summits will pan out
It is another crunch time for the European Union. Expertise in squaring circles is required. The Eurogroup - finance ministers plus the European Central Bank - meets on October 8. The Economic and Financial Affairs Council (finance ministers) or ECOFIN meets on October 9. The European Council (heads of state and government plus the president of the European Commission) meets on October 18-19. Interestingly, there is no common chairmanship. Perhaps diversity is an aid to problem-solving. The safe bet is that there will be no October Revolution.
In each forum, the remit is to sort out what - if anything - is meant by a 'banking union', 'fiscal union' and 'federation of nation states'. And to do so in language which will not frighten the market or the lovers of democracy. Along the way something has to be done about Greece - which needs both more aid and more time to repair its finances - and Spain, which needs aid both centrally and in the five provinces that have asked for central funding. But Spain cannot so far bring itself to ask for it and accept an EU-crafted austerity programme.
So what is on the table? It ought to be possible to put more flesh and bones of the banking union, including the question – which banks? And there could be recognition that the United Kingdom will not join, which literally means European banking disunion. Italy, Ireland, Greece and Portugal will have to accept that the national governments and nobody else are responsible for the 'legacy' of their rescue of failed banks before EU aid kicked in. With clouds of tear gas shrouding Constitution Square in Athens, Greece needs no new austerity. Spain has to be told of and to accept the conditions on which the stabilisation fund would intervene, but the authors of said conditions have to recognise that the retrenchment options open to Spain are minimal.
Something will be said, especially by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, about movement towards a fiscal union. But the notion of central fiscal controllers is a long way from political realities. The president of the commission will take the opportunity to elaborate on the 'federation of nation states', but he is unlikely to recruit immediate takers. Studies may be commissioned. The French President Francois Hollande, hitherto the champion of growth, will congratulate himself on the restrictive budget which he has just presented. Under 'other business' the British Prime Minister David Cameron is duty-bound to announce demands for deregulation but without specification at this stage.
By about now, the scribes and the Sherpas - who pack the metaphorical baggage - have done their work. Presidential and prime ministerial offices are working on the lines to take. Will what we calculate is the 19th 'make-or- break' gathering come up with the goods? Will anything be said about a new treaty? Is anybody keen on the referendums it would bring with it? Probably not.
Another European summit, another waste of time
The 22nd EU summit of the crisis period, last week in Brussels, resulted in tangible little benefits. But why is it that 27 powerful leaders continuously fail to get anything substantive done. Our secret columnist takes a closer look at the perils of committee decision-making