LONDON — The recent European Union summit at Nice seems to have been bad tempered and acrimonious. Yet it eventually, even if only after days of wrangling, ended in an agreement of sorts and the way is now open to the admission of new members from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, leading in due course, to the creation of a Union of 27 states.

The summit might have ended in failure and enlargement might have been put off sine die. This would have been a setback and the present agreement, even if it leaves many loose ends, is far better than no agreement and should be accepted by both the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Politics is the art of the possible and it was politically impossible for most of the heads of government to make larger concessions than they did on issues that their parliaments and people saw as vital to their national interests. The summit had to deal with many highly contentious issues and compromises had to be made. The fact that no one was happy with the outcome from a national point of view suggests that the outcome was probably as good as could be hoped for in the circumstances.

To speed up decision-making and prevent paralysis, agreement had to be reached on the extension of majority voting to areas hitherto subject to the national veto. There was a great deal of pressure on Britain to accept that decisions on taxation and social policy should be not be subject to national vetoes. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while willing to compromise on other issues, had pledged in the British Parliament that he would not concede on these two points. If he had done so, the Conservative opposition, which has become increasingly Euroskeptic, would have been handed a big stick with which to belabor the government.

More importantly, such a concession would have been contrary to British national interests. Taxation and social security are fundamental issues for the British economy and way of life. For their part, the French were not prepared to concede their national veto on cultural issues. The French are determined to retain their cultural identity and refuse to be swamped by Hollywood. Nevertheless majority voting has been extended to some quite significant issues.

Another major problem was how to balance the votes of member countries in the Council of Ministers. The simple answer might have been through the so-called double majority where decisions would reflect not only the voting states, large and small, but also the size of their populations. But the French saw this as giving Germany, whose population since unification is significantly larger than that of France, more power within the Union. The French demanded parity while the Germans wanted not only the size of their population but also the size of their financial contribution to the Union to be taken into account in the allocation of votes.

In the final outcome, France retained parity with Germany in voting in the Council of Ministers. Spain obtained an increase in its voting power but did not achieve parity with France, Germany, Britain and Italy. The small countries reckoned that they were the losers in the final allocation of votes, but a major step toward enlargement was taken with the apportioning of national voting rights for the applicant countries to be available when their negotiations on joining the union have been finally agreed. The twin leadership of the Union by France and Germany is now more problematic than it has ever been.

Just as contentious was the debate over the number of commissioners. At present there are 20 commissioners, with the larger countries having two each. The larger countries have agreed to give up their second commissioner from 2005 and the total number of commissioners, on the basis of one commissioner per member country, could rise to 27. The commission is already unwieldy with some of the commissioners having little of substance to do and therefore tempted to make mischief. In due course the Commission should be reduced in size.

Agreement was reached that groups of eight countries or more may in the future pursue greater integration in some policy areas, but these groups must be open to others to join. This should be a generally acceptable compromise.

A European charter of rights was proclaimed, but it will not yet have legal force. The charter, unlike that on human rights, extends to social issues and is disliked by many British business people, who fear that if applied to Britain it could force up costs already high due to the pound’s strength.

At Germany’s request, another intergovernmental conference will be held in 2004. Berlin wants a clearer definition of the constitutional role of the governments and in the case of Germany of the states, which make up the Federal Republic of Germany. The Union is not becoming a superstate and remains very much a close alliance of sovereign states, which have ceded certain powers to the institutions of the Union.

Much attention has been focused on defense cooperation among European states within NATO. The British see the development of a European rapid reaction force as a way of strengthening the European defense commitment and enabling the Europeans to act separately from the United States, e.g., in the Balkans if this became necessary and the Americans were unwilling or unable to take part themselves. But the British who attach great importance to their “special” relationship with the U.S. do not want the force to be seen as any kind of substitute for NATO or to be construed as undermining NATO. The French, however, while members of NATO, do not take part in NATO’s military planning and have made some provocative comments that have upset the Americans. These have come at a delicate point in relations with the U.S. when a new president is preparing to take power. This row should not be allowed to rumble on.

The summit failed to deal with trade and agricultural issues. The Common Agricultural Policy cannot, if only for cost reasons, be applied to the applicant countries without modification. The provision of subsidies to the poorer regions will also, for cost reasons, have to be modified when the applicant countries join. The Spanish government managed to retain its veto over this aspect of Union policies and there will have to be some tough bargaining before a solution is found to this expensive issue.

The outcome of the Nice summit will in the short term be neutral for European economies, but in the longer term as the Union expands should be positive.

The issues facing the EU must seem remote to Japanese readers, but European developments are important for Japanese interests, political and economic.

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