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Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

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6. Conclusion

Over the thirteen year period that the EC has attended the annual summit meetings with the political leaders of the western industrialised nations, the overall influence and performance of the Community -- and especially of the Commission President -- have reflected the prevailing balance in the EC's political and institutional system.

The adoption of the compromise formula for EC participation at the Western Summits in 1977 reflected the tendancy toward 'parallelism', which was progressively becoming the norm for institutional developments within an increasingly 'hybrid' Community system, synthesising elements of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. This 'parallel' approach found its roots in the belief that the European Commission, as the executive branch of the European Community's political constellation, was a valuable and crucial element in the EC process, which could participate in many domains of Community activity without replacing or eliminating the roles of the member states. This parallel and complementary capacity assigned to the Commission in the Community's internal functioning (i.e. through its involvement in European Council meetings and EPC) was transposed to the international stage in the Commission's external representation of the EC at the Western Economic Summit.

The definitive study of economic summitry, by Robert Putnam and Nicholas Bayne, concludes that the organic link which has existed and evolved between the Western Economic Summit and the European Community has given the necessary effective reassurance to the non-participant EC member states, and promoted the basic objectives of summitry in permitting the Europeans to negotiate at the highest political level with the other major actors of the western industrialised world. Thus, despite all its imperfections, the Community-Summit link should be judged a success. The arrangement joined together two very different instruments in a flexible way, which could adapt both to the changing nature of the summits and to developments in the Community...Over the years it would effectively reassure the smaller member-states that their concerns were protected. It would enable the Community to work together with the United States and Japan at the highest political level, thus promoting one of the fundamental aims of the summits.132

Far from replacing the EC as the principal entity for management of West European and transatlantic relations, the Western Economic Summit has reinforced the legitimacy of the EC as an international actor, and has provided a vehicle for the enhancement of the Community's external identity and influence in international political and economic decision-making in most domains. With the exception of international macroeconomic and monetary coordination, which is currently conducted under the aegis of the G7 finance ministers from which the Commission is excluded, the economic summitry process has promoted the enlargement of the EC's influence upon the international scene.

Indeed, 'the aims and ambitions of the European Community are wider and older than those of the summit' 133, and the competence and authority of the EC have been reinforced through its summit involvement. The processes and systems which exist within the EC constellation serve as a model for international co-operation, harmonization and coordination which can serve the wider international scene in the collective management of the interdependent global economic (and political) order.

The participation of the EC at the summit has reinforced the legitimacy of the Western Economic Summit as a forum for the collective management of the international system 134. The paramount reason for EC participation is the extension of its competences -- both exclusive, and those in which it shares powers with its member states -- into a growing number of issue areas treated by the summit. In areas where the Community has exclusive competence, such as international trade and agricultural policy, the member states have delegated all responsibility and authority to the Community institutions. Thus, only the Community can represent its member states in these domains.

Secondly, the growing importance of political cooperation and cohesiveness of the Community member states has lent more credibility to the Community's claim to the status of a global political actor, which speaks with 'one voice' on matters of foreign policy and international political issues. Due to the extended nature of the EPC's network for foreign policy concertation and solidarity among EC member states which has evolved over the past decade, the representation of a consensus or 'unified' position for the EC is crucial at the level of international summitry. The SEA contains reference to the necessity of preserving coherance and consistency between the policies of the European Community and the European Political Cooperation (article 30(5) SEA), charging the Presidency and the Commission with special responsibility in areas of their own competence to ensure that such a consistency is maintained. The crucial nature of this development is rendered even more important with the increasingly blurred distinction between economic and political relations in this era of rapid evolution in Eastern and Western Europe. The Commission's mandated responsibility for the coordination of emergency food aid to Poland and economic cooperation efforts with Poland and Hungary in 1989 are witness to the Community's authority and legitimacy in this domain.

Thirdly, the EC represents a 12-nation conglomerate of 320 million people, which possesses significant influence in the global system. EC representation as the eighth delegation at the economic summit allows it to represent the eight smaller member-states who are not included in their own right. These eight nations have a combined population of approximately 90 million, and they have extremely open economies which contribute a great deal to the international economic system. These three factors render the inclusion of the EC in the process of international economic summitry indispensable.

The contemporaneous birth and development of the European Council Summits and the Western Economic Summits as elite political 'intergovernmental' decision-making fora in the mid 1970's was believed by some to have tolled the death knell for any further progress toward integration in the European Community to a more 'federal' system. In 1984, Merlini wrote:

While the Western Economic Summit, like the European Council, was indeed primarily intended to be a purely intergovernmental forum, the presence and extensive involvement of the EC Commission changes their nature considerably. Within the EC firmament, the European Council summits, which depend largely upon the technical expertise and political impetus which the EC Commission provides, have launched a process of heightened integration in accordance with the dictates of the co-operative federalist theoretical paradigm in Western Europe. While it is true that the European Parliament's role in summitry is marginal, the Economic Summits, far from 'sucking the blood' from the Commission, have given this supranational entity an unprecedented opportunity to participate in this management of the contemporary international order in a 'parallel' capacity. Thus, they have enhanced and revitalised the Community's internal dynamism and 'external identity'. The dual trends toward intergovernmentalism and federalism in EC system growth have in effect been synthesised through strong and influential Commission participation and contributions to both the European Council and the Western Economic Summit.

The Commission's role has been consolidated and extended through its involvement in the summitry process, through both the internal Community consensus-building procedures, and through its participation at the international level in the preparatory phase which precedes each annual summit conference. During the early 1980's, when 'Euro-pessimism' or 'Eurosclerosis' prevailed and the EC system was stagnant and fundamentally ineffective, the Community's presence -- as embodied principally by the performance of the Commission President, supported by the EC member states who attend the annual summits -- was not particularly strong nor impressive. The summits from 1980-84 show a relatively weak record of actual substantive EC contribution to summit results. During these early years, however, it was perhaps most important that the Commission was acknowledged as a legitimate participant in an increasing range of summit discussions, as it was permitted to attend all economic discussions from 1978, and political discussions from 1981 onward.

The new era of relative dynamism and unity within the West European polity, catalysed by the implementation of the Single European Act and the launching of the 1992 initiative, has strengthened the Commission's legitimacy and prestige as the EC's executive authority. In turn, this has furnished a firm foundation for action and assertiveness upon the international summitry stage.

The tangible manifestations of this revitalised and strengthened 'external identity' for the Commission and for the EC system as a whole are visible in its summit performances in the later 1980's, particularly in Toronto in 1988 and in Paris in 1989, where summit topics in which the Community has competence and influence occupied a large niche in the negotiations. The EC's initiatives in such areas as North-South relations (LLDC debt clearance), the environment (CFC reduction to protect the ozone layer), and East-West economic relations (economic relief efforts towards central and eastern Europe) were instrumental in ensuring summit decisions and in catalyzing summit action. Discussions concentrating upon political topics falling under the jurisdiction of European Political Cooperation also benefited from a more cohesive and unified 'Community' presence, and from the enhanced role of the EC Commission President in these proceedings during this dynamic era in the evolution, development, and strengthening of the European Community.

The complex and intricate links between the EC and the Western Economic Summit have evolved in a complementary and mutually reinforcing manner in their joint endeavour to monitor and manage the actions and policies of the western industrialised democracies. The strengthening of the EC's institutional machinery has enabled the Community to 'come of age' and to play a more active role in the resolution of international problems based upon increased cohesion and legal competence in a steadily growing range of contemporary issues. This trend will continue, as issues rooted in international interdependence and requiring collective action force the agendas of the Community and the economic summits to converge even more closely.

As the European Community's '1992' approaches, the Western Economic Summit will be of paramount significance to the management of the delicate web of interests and interdependencies as the trilateralist relations between the EC, North America and Japan accommodate the systemic implications of Western Europe's new dynamism.

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