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European Council Holds Summit To Determine Next Steps


The European Council is holding a pivotal summit Thursday and Friday to determine what's next in terms of ratifying a constitution and working out a budget.

Throughout Europe a little over a year ago people in 25 European countries celebrated the enlargement of the European Union and the prospect of developing an economic powerhouse to rival any in the world, including the U.S.

These were the scenes more recently in France and the Netherlands where the majority of voters cast ballots against the EU constitution. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has since announced Britain will postpone its vote, the Euro has dropped in value, and the European Council finds itself worrying not only about the constitution but also how to resolve the budget dispute.

Even so, Robin Niblett, Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says we are not seeing the demise of the European Union. "The EU is waking up to some realities which perhaps the governments and the people had perhaps ignored and not paid full attention to: enlargement, what it really means to have gone from 15 to 25 countries, the pressures of a rising China, and global economic competition can no longer be kept at bay by just the mere process of European integration."

Mr. Niblett says the votes against the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands were protest votes against their national governments and not against the EU itself.

Esther Brimmer, Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, agrees that much of the EU's present difficulty stems from expansion: politically, socially and economically.

"Enlargement is not just about money. It's also about who is a European. What are the outer limits of Europe? And I think many members of the old Europe, the old 15 members, are feeling uncomfortable.

They realize that the dynamics within the Union have changed. That it's no longer simply a Western European organization, that it spans 450 million people, many with greatly different historical backgrounds, and for both the new and old members of the European Union that they are not yet comfortable with how the organization has changed. The new members feel that they are second class citizens and the old members feel that maybe they have different interests." she said.

The French who cast the first "no" votes are concerned about immigration, the French Muslim population, and the possibility of losing agricultural subsidies.

The Dutch are also concerned about immigration. Both are concerned about further enlargement of the Union and who decides what countries will be admitted in the future.

The British want to hold onto certain financial advantages. Both experts agree there has to be compromise on these issues. They say a budget may not be resolved during the summit, but negotiations are in the works. And, they say, the EU will survive its current difficulties.

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