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Opportunity in Crisis? Prospects for the UK EU Presidency 2005

Richard Whitman and Jake Benford, Chatham House

15.07.2005 · EU-Reform-Spotlight 05/2005

Opportunity in Crisis? Prospects for the UK EU Presidency 2005

Richard Whitman and Jake Benford, Chatham House, London

EU-Reform-Spotlight 05/2005 (Pdf download, 1,1 MB)

Key points

  • On July 1 the United Kingdom assumed the Presidency of the European Union for the duration of six months. It did so in a volatile political atmosphere with the European Union at an important crossroads.

  • Whereas the official agenda focuses largely on continuing economic reform as well as on external matters, the UK government faces an unavoidable agenda which has largely written itself. Key issues will be the future of the Constitutional Treaty, Future Financing and Enlargement.

  • The terrorist attacks of 7 July in London are likely to result in an increased focus on EU wide co-operation in combating international terrorism, in particular with respect to retention of telecommunications data.

  • Though the short-term future of the Treaty has been agreed upon following the Luxembourg Summit of 15 June, neither the European Council nor the UK government have a clear-cut and purposeful strategy for dealing with the issue in the long–term. However, the UK government does not seem to expect the matter to dominate the Presidency in concrete terms largely due to the preponderance of more pressing issues.

  • The most pressing issue will be that of future financing. One likely strategy for the UK government will be to avoid an escalation of the issue by securing a budget which, crucially, will be subject to a mid-term review around 2008. The government would thus temporarily hold on to the rebate but secure a review of the Common Agricultural Policy significantly earlier than that scheduled for 2012.

  • The scheduled enlargement of 2007, with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, is not under threat. The most controversial issue will be the opening of accession talks with Turkey, particularly in light of likely German opposition. However, tension is defused by the long-term nature of Turkish EU membership.

  • Recent UK government rhetoric has stressed the need for Europe to reconnect with its citizens. One benchmark by which to judge the UK EU Presidency will be the extent to which the government can trigger and sustain a debate on the core questions of European integration.

  • A flavour of the prospective tone of such a debate was offered by Prime Minister Blair in his speech to the European Parliament of June 23. Social justice, as well as economic prosperity, lies at the heart of both EU and UK politics. It is unlikely, however, that the UK EU Presidency will see a stream of concrete policy initiatives. Rather, the focus will be on long-standing problems and sources of tensions that have troubled the European Union.

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