Friday 19 January 2018

Changing face of EU puts summit on back foot over crisis

Jim Neuger

BACK in 2000, European Union leaders promised to create a common patent system by the end of 2001; a deadline pushed back so often that the EU summit starting today is poised to set a new one.

Deadlines are such an iffy business in Europe that the bloc is shying away from fixing the calendar for the critical project of turning the crisis-struck euro area into what its leaders call a "genuine" economic union.

Moves toward a fiscal and banking union will play out "over the next decade", proposals for the Brussels summit say, enough time for markets to push one or more debt-laden countries out of a 17-nation currency zone once deemed permanent.

On Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Barroso called the petty nationalism of the patent debate "a typical case where member states cannot agree for I do not know how many years".

A similar dynamic is at work ahead of the 19th summit to tackle the debt crisis. The summit will grapple with "developing a vision for the economic and monetary union to ensure stability and sustained prosperity", according to a brainstorming paper released on Tuesday by four officials led by EU President Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Van Rompuy co-wrote the blueprint with Mr Barroso, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who manages meetings of euro finance ministers.

It calls for a 10-year road map which would echo the path to the euro sketched by the Maastricht Treaty negotiations of 1991, with one exception: that summit set 1999 as the date certain for starting the currency, while talks over fixing it are open-ended.

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