Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

There is no equality in the EU

Adelina Marini, April 13, 2007

Around the 50th anniversary of the EU a lot of opinions appeared about where this union is heading. We offer you one more thesis which, this time is neither a forecast nor an interpretation. It is a research, done by Professor Jonas Talberg from the University of Stockholm. The research was done among former and present leaders of the member states. It seems that although all countries are equal within the Union there is serious bargaining for influence going on. Some of the interviewees admit that practically the larger states in the Union openly put pressure on the others. Among Britain, Germany and France an odd circle of influence has been formed.

QUESTION: Your inquiry shows very interesting results, prof. Talberg. Would say a little bit more about it, why did you decide to do such an inquiry?

JONAS TALBERG: The reason is that presently we don’t know how the negotiations take place in the European Council. We have some historical data from the s and the beginning of the s but as far as present is concerned we have no idea how influence is gained and how decisions are being taken. Our strategy was to do some ambitious interviews with the elite – former or present leaders. We did around 35 interviews 13 of which with presidents or prime ministers.

QUESTION: And what are the basic results? Is there something like union within the Union?

JONAS TALBERG: The basic results are that there are different sources of influence in the European Council. The first one is when one representative in the Council has more resources and here the size of the country doesn’t matter. The second element of the bargaining with influence is the institutional or in other words whether your country holds the presidency at the moment or not. Thirdly, the personal capacity of the leader also matters, his or hers capabilities to negotiate.

QUESTION: Do you think that the lack of a European constitution is a reason for this result?

JONAS TALBERG: I wouldn’t say it that way but in the constitutional treaty there is a proposal for the creation of a president of the EU. This might change some of the results which appeared in this inquiry. The larger member states would increase their influence because such a change would empower the European Council as an institution and its relations with the Commission and thus this would lead to even more bargaining during a presidency.

QUESTION: Does this bargaining reflect on the citizens and how?

JONAS TALBERG: The decisions which are taken by the European Council because this is the highest organ of the Union have deep consequences for the European citizens. For the past decades the Council has taken almost all decisions to start with the European treaties, enlargements, financial perspectives and the foreign policy. So these decisions really are very important.

QUESTION: Well, but this bargaining with influence makes the important European institutions like the Commission and the Parliament practically useless, doesn’t it?

JONAS TALBERG: I wouldn’t say so. The European Council takes decisions on many questions which had already been prepared by the Commission, the Parliament or the Council itself. We also have to remember that not all issues are decided on the Council level. There are many legislative issues that are decided by the Commission, the Parliament or the relevant Council of ministers.

QUESTION: Which means that this bargaining with influence does not affect the functioning of the Union?

JONAS TALBERG: It affects the direction of the political development of the Union because the decisions that are taken by the European Council are related mainly to the long term development of EU, for example how the institutions to be structured or whether new members to join, how the budget is allocated. In the same beside these very important issues we have the everyday legislative mechanism of the Council, the Commission and the Parliament and in this process the European council is not an important player.

QUESTION: In your inquiry you say that the personal capabilities are very important and one of the strongest prominent leaders is the prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker. Do you think that it is only the person that matters or also the fact that Luxembourg is one of the richest countries in Europe?

JONAS TALBERG: I think that the person is all that matters. Juncker earned himself exclusive position in the Council. He has a very broad experience in the European affairs because he is as well prime minister but a financial minister also. And he also participates in the Council for more than 10 years. Juncker earned respect and authority which are unrivaled at the moment. So this has nothing to do with the fact that he represents Luxembourg. Though, we shouldn’t forget that he is also very good as a mediator between other countries because Luxembourg has little national interests.

QUESTION: Do you have any data for the participation of the new member states like Bulgaria and Romania?

JONAS TALBERG: Our interviews were done by the end of December last year so we don’t have data for Bulgaria and Romania as participants in the Council. Besides they have participated in a Council only once so far since they joined.

QUESTION: And for the ten that joined in 2004?

JONAS TALBERG: We don’t have particular impression about their participation. Our general opinion is that they are more cautious on all issues and this doesn’t lead to imbalances of power so far.