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Once upon a time, there was a great leader of the new world who had a vision of creating a bilateral arrangement with the old world, and so he asked his political advisors whom he should speak to in Brussels.
His advisors usually responded to his questions in a flash, but this time around they looked at each other perplexed and informed the great leader that they would have to research the matter in great detail. Having investigated the matter quite thoroughly, the advisors returned and, instead of giving him the answers he sought, suggested that their young European intern from the European Commission would be best placed to explain the complex web of people and procedures…and so the nightmare began.
The young intern turned to the great leader and asked what kind of bilateral arrangement he had in mind? He replied proudly that he wanted to urgently create a new arrangement where the US and Europe would pool their knowledge and resources to eradicate all forms of the flu once and for all, and that both regions would equally donate US$25 billion to the initiative.
The advisors all looked at each other, some raising their eyebrows; others were heard to sigh deeply, whilst others scratched their heads and looked confused, realising that the night would be long.
The young intern turned to the great leader and said:
“You should probably first speak to the President of Europe, sometimes referred to as the Head of the Council of Ministers, because he is the top guy in Europe. This is a new job, so he has only been in power for a few months – a lovely chap called Van Rompuy who is very keen to engage on the world stage, but since he does not have any real powers, I would advise that you contact José Manuel Barroso because he has been around for a long time and is President of the European Commission which is responsible for policy and legislation. But there again, Sir, as you know the Commission is a weakened institution, and I am not sure that they would be able to push your great idea without the support of some important people!”
The great leader interjected and asked how many other important people there were in Brussels that he should consider meeting as he was very busy and needed to speak to the most important leader.
The intern blushed and explained that there was another President, namely that of the European Parliament, the only democratically elected institution representing the interests of European citizens. At this point the great leader said that this was the man! But then the intern began to look agitated.
“Well go on then,” the great leader enquired of the intern, “explain to me if I should not see him, what other President should I consider?”
The intern went on to explain that it was not so much other Presidents as other Prime Ministers, such as Mr Brown and Ms Merkel, although she is a “Chancellor”, and, of course, there was Mr Sarkozy who was actually another President.
The great leader looked him in the eye and said: “But this Mr Sarkozy, is he more or less important that the other Presidents?” Now there was a question…
The intern was by now fully engaged and explained that this President and those Prime Ministers were really very important indeed because they were the leaders of the three most important countries in Europe and that they were actually more important than the President of the Commission, the Parliament, and the so-called Council of Ministers, and that if he really wanted to conclude this agreement he would definitely need their support.
The great leader reflected on what he had just learnt and finally proclaimed that he understood that he had to speak, not to one, but to six Presidents, and that in many ways he thought this very original and democratic, albeit it a little exaggerated. But he was nonetheless willing to give it a go, so he ordered his advisors to set up these meetings and told them he was going to Brussels the next day.
Upon hearing this news, the most senior advisor grew paler by the second and eventually asked the great leader to consider some additional factors. The great leader, pleased with his earlier solution, managed to grunt “What else now!?”
The advisor explained that he would not be able to visit all six at the same time or in the same place. The great leader looked more perplexed than ever and asked exactly how many places he would have to visit in order to meet them all. Having studied the calendar of the EU institutions the intern stated proudly that the great leader would have to first go to Brussels, then Strasbourg because it was Parliament plenary week, and finally to London, Paris and Berlin.
“Anything else, I should be considering?” asked the great leader.
A dead silence reverberated around the room as the advisors gathered their courage to explain that there were indeed a few more people to consider, such as the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, but that he was on business in Malta next week, and then there was Baroness Ashton, the Commissioner responsible for foreign affairs and security policy who was also Vice-President of the Commission and a great ally of America, and then of course there was the Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response who would have to be considered. And why not the head of the WHO in Geneva?
The great leader, known for his composure, sat back, put his head in his hands and was heard mumbling.
“So I have to see six Presidents/Prime Ministers/Chancellors in five locations, three Commissioners, one in Malta and two in Brussels, and some leader in Geneva – so that makes 10 people in seven cities.”
Surveying his advisors he asked: “So if I see all 10 people in 7 cities all will be fine?”
By then he knew the answer and challenged his intern to surprise him. The intern, knowing that he was coming to the end of his work placement, provided a very pragmatic answer.
“They will most likely all agree with you, Sir, but at the same time they all disagree with each other, and reaching an agreement could take literally years as the EU decision-making process is based on full stakeholder participation and consultation and is therefore very time consuming!”
Itching to speak, but not daring to, one of the other advisors finally mustered up all his courage and explained that as far as he knew there was also the Prime Minster of Spain whom the great leader should meet, because his country currently holds the EU Presidency.
“In fact”, the advisor continued, “you should also speak with the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Hungary because they share the Presidency with Spain in this new troika system.”
His fellow advisors were astonished at their colleague who had neglected to mention the role of the national parliaments which have now been given the power to reject EU proposals if they feel the issue could be dealt with better by them.
“How many of these are there?” the great leader asked.
“Oh, only 27 for the moment,” replied his advisors. “But there could be 30 very soon…”
The great leader, who by then was lost in deep thought, very quickly came out of his reverie to claim that he would abandon his initiative with the EU altogether and instead would propose it to the UN, as this would definitely be quicker and would resolve the problem at a global level.
All looked at each other, and for the first time that morning smiles appeared on all their faces. The perfect solution had been found!
“No wonder the EU was not at the final table negotiating the climate change no-deal!” reflected the great leader that evening.
President Obama will be unable to attend an EU-US Summit meeting set to take place in Madrid in May, due to a scheduling misunderstanding.
As a result of Obama’s absence, the summit will be postponed until the autumn.
The New York Times describes Europe’s feelings as ‘insulted’, ‘taken for granted’, ‘losing importance in American eyes’, and the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Zapatero was described as ‘angry and embarrassed’ when he learned the news. . .
Good ol’ Jose Manuel Barroso seems to be the only cool-headed man in the mix, as he calmly told the press that he understands completely, and that both parties can work to find a mutually agreeable time.
So my questions are two-fold: why does the Summit hinge upon Obama’s attendance, and why the hard feelings?! We’ve all double booked a party (summit?!) at one time or another. Let’s not be so hard on him.