Student simulation at the Hebrew University
The five enlargements of the European Union so far were each conducted according to different rules and procedures. The subject of enlargement is a difficult, elusive one which requires an innovative approach if in-depth understanding is the goal.
On 12-13 March 2006, twenty-four students of the European Forum and the Helmut Kohl Institute for European Studies of Hebrew University, along with fellow students from Romania and Austria, explored the issue of a further round of EU enlargement, this time involving Croatia and Turkey. The students adopted roles as Foreign Ministers in the Council, Members of the European Parliament, EU Commissioners and as the heads of delegation of the applicant and later candidate states of Croatia and Turkey. The simulation covered the whole process of enlargement, from the applicant state’s expression of willingness, the initial minimum-conditions check, the deliberations on the Copenhagen Criteria to the opening of accession negotiations.
The students from Israel and Europe were prepared for the subject and their respective roles in the simulation during a two-month period of guided research in which they received role profiles, background information, forms to update and so on. These forms concerned their positions on further enlargement in general and on the two applicants in particular. This research was tutored by Tamir Sinai of the Centre for Applied Policy Research, a think tank attached to Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. He encouraged the students also to address questions to the real players in Brussels or on the national level, a method which even today, in times of glorified transparency, proved difficult for some institutions—with notable exceptions such as the Turkish delegation to the EU, which answered the students’ questions exhaustively.
Nevertheless, the students arrived at the Beit Maiersdorf conference centre at the Hebrew University, the venue of the event, well prepared and eager to use their knowledge and try their negotiation skills.
The simulation was opened by Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Helmut Kohl Centre for European Studies, who drew on his intimate knowledge of international-negotiation realpolitik by pointing out the ever-present, multilayer build-up of national positions in these settings. The “get-reelected imperative” should turn out to accompany the students throughout the two days of negotiations. Next Mrs. Catherine Hirschwitz greeted the students in the name of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which cosponsored the event.
The simulation began with the opening ceremony and statements by the Presidency of the EU, Austria, represented by Matthias Haberl, University of Vienna. In the year celebrating the bicentennial birthday of Mozart, the Austrian Presidency appealed to all parties involved in the enlargement to act together as a symphony orchestra—though he avoided spelling out clearly who would hold the conductor’s baton.
After the representatives of Croatia and Turkey handed in their applications, the Council scrutinized these based on the minimal requirements of “Europeanness,” “Stateness” and “Democracy.” It informed the EP and tasked the Commission with drafting an Opinion that would serve the Council as a framework for possible negotiations. In Parliament, the Committee for Foreign Relations started its work and immediately confronted the knotty issues likely to arise in the negotiations with the two candidates.
Meanwhile, after deliberating, the Council, based on the positive Opinion of the Commission (fulfilment of the Copenhagen Criteria by both countries), decided unanimously to open negotiations with the two applicants while in Parliament the controversy intensified. It became clear, however, to the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that their role was limited to giving their assent after the Council and the Commission conducted the negotiations. The MEPs’ main concern was now to find a way to make some sort of positive contribution to the negotiation process which was about to start. The aim was to avoid having to make the final decision (assent) without having influenced the issue (accession treaties) beforehand. This struggle for influence should prove frustrating for the EP during the simulation—as it is in real life.
At this stage the EU called for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) which would include the Council, the Commission and the now-candidate states. The IGC’s aim was to negotiate accession modalities in the different policy areas identified by the Commission - “close the chapters” as it is called - and draft an accession treaty with the two candidates. The Commission’s screening of, and with, the candidates preceded the identification of the most prominent issues of contention that had to be resolved.
In the IGC, the Commission took the lead together with the Presidency and determined that negotiations would start with Croatia first. The country, enjoying much support in the Council especially from Germany, and represented by Anne-Marie Mergel of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, was well prepared and managed to convince the Commission, the Council and also the EP that it would be able to fulfil all the EU’s requirements in due time. Chapters were closed one by one as various aid and advisory programs were formulated and agreed upon.
Meanwhile, deliberations in Parliament were going in a different direction. It became clear that the problem would not be Croatia’s accession but, rather, Turkey’s. A majority in Parliament was advocating a privileged partnership for Turkey instead of full membership. Despite heroic efforts by the Turkish delegation to counter misconceptions, fears as well as genuine doubts, the blocking majority was not to be swayed. Hence, an unprecedented constitutional crisis loomed if the IGC should decide on an accession treaty with Turkey and Parliament failed to give its assent.
The IGC, recognizing the grave situation, tried to convince individual MEPs to change their position but failed. The deadlock was complete. What could save the situation? Could the EU risk another major step forward without taking into account the feelings and fears of the European people?
It was at this stage of difficult haggling and bartering that the Turkish delegation pulled the emergency brake. Saving face and making a forceful point of honour, the Turkish representatives withdrew from the IGC, protesting the discriminatory undercurrents of the discourse.
Nevertheless, the Commission and the Council reiterated that Turkey is a candidate for EU membership and will, after the EU and its citizens have been better prepared for this eventuality, be invited again to negotiate accession.
The IGC, however, heard festive speeches on Croatia’s successful bid to join. It was clear to the participants that much still needed to be done, but that the country was on the right track.
It became clear to all participants that enlargement is a complex process lacking clearly defined rules. The role of Parliament remains fuzzy and should possibly be extended if the Union wants to avoid confronting divergent views among the citizens at inconvenient times—sometimes which can only be forestalled by constant dialogue with the citizens ahead of crucial decisions. The MEPs also learned the important lesson that no one will give Parliament more powers; it will always have to formulate and fight for its own powers. The Council, safe in the knowledge that it is the main decision-making body in the process, apparently learned that the time has come to allow more involvement of Parliament, civil society and the citizens of Europe in decisions. The Commission, professional as usual, found itself facing the important task of rallying all involved if the dry and apparently clear-cut decisions are also to prevail in the real world.
The simulation was conducted using the current rules and procedures of enlargement, including the break-off clause in case basic values of the Union are infringed by a candidate, and the possibility of lengthy transitional periods. Will future simulations be held according to the same rules? Probably not, as the member states of the Union have kept their options open in the draft constitution and again refrained from clearly defining the process.
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