Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hampton Court Harmony?

COM2005_525_en.pdf (application/pdf Object)

The question of the week on the European scene is the degree of harmony or disharmony we will see when the heads of state and government of the European Union meet on Thursday in Hampton Court in England for a supposedly relaxed chat about the state of the economy and Europe.

For Tony Blair it's the Number One chance of relaunching Europe along the lines he indicated in his speech to the European Parliament in June.

For Commission President Barroso it is his chance of showing that he is still a relevant actor on the scene.

For still-Chancellor Schröder it's just stupid turning up when everyone is waiting for Angela Merkel and the policies coming out of the present talks between CDU/CSU and SPD.

Although the later fact substantially reduces the effectiveness of the gathering it will still be a closely watched event.

Can President Chirac abstain from the tirades against the global trade talks and liberal economic policies that he has frequently indulged in recently?

The distance between France and the rest has increased in the last few weeks as it has looked as if Paris is refusing solidarity with the agreed European line in the global trade talks, particularly on the agricultural issues.

The European Commission has produced a background document for the gathering which isn't bad but neither particularly hard-hitting or agenda-setting. It's a decent staff paper, but not much in terms of new policy directions.

Nevertheless it is worth reading for all those taking an interest in the debate.

It has got headlines for the proposalto create "a new Globalisation Adjustment Fund which can complement the structural funds, and notably the European Social Fund, by providing a swift response, focused on people, to urgent problems which result from globalisation."

This looks dubious at best and dangereous at worst.

If an enterprise fails to stay competitive, should it then have the possibility of applying for European Union subsidies to cover losses that are bound to rise and rise?

Or should it suddenly be the European Commission responsibility to step in with retraining and other schemes when he firm has to close or reduce employment as a result of competition from outside the Union?

In both cases it looks highly dubious. This could not be the tasks of the European Union.

The only think certain of this proposal should be adapted would be that governments would direct criticism at the Commission for everything in this area it did not do. The Commission just sets itself up to be the scapegoat of choice for the populist politicians of Europe. It seems less than wise.

One would hope that there would be significant disharmony at Hampton Court at the least over this aspect of the European Commission paper.

It's not more funds that Europe needs - it's more firms.