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Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

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4. The Political and Institutional Links Between the EC and The Economic Summits

Once the dilemma of Community participation had been resolved in 1977, the Commission was quickly and thoroughly assimilated into the extensive preparatory process for the annual summit meetings, participating in the conferences of the sherpas (personal representatives of the summit leaders) and the formulation and consolidation of positions between the yearly conferences. The Chef du Cabinet of the President of the Commission has always been the EC sherpa. He also serves as the Commission President's personal advisor for European Council sessions.

Indeed the Community's participation in the advance preparations, as well as its representation at the summit itself, occurred far more smoothly and easily than anticipated.89 This process has in fact been facilitated by the nature of the issues concerned. That is, issues figuring upon the agenda of the summit usually correspond to topics which are being simultaneously debated and considered by the Community institutions and member states themselves. Thus, Community positions on summit topics can usually be derived from the regular EC process of discussion and consensus building.

The roles and importance of the European Council, the Council Presidency and the Commission will now be examined in the context of their relationship with the Community's participation at the summits of the industrialised democracies.

The European Council:

Of particular importance for the EC's link with the Western Economic Summits are the semi-annual (formerly quarterly) European Council meetings of the EC, for both political and institutional reasons. The role of the heads of state and government meeting at the European Council is to inject strategic impetus into the construction of a European Union, and to launch from the highest level general political guidelines to further integration. The functions of the European Council range from informally exchanging views on a range of topics, to assuring consistency between EC and EPC activities, to consolidating common positions on external relations. The European Council also takes part as the supreme organ in the European Community decision-making system, and as such can be considered as the most important and decisive actor in the EC political process, even to the extent of taking from the Commission the monopoly of initiating power which the Treaty of Rome ascribed to it.

From 1975-77, the European Council was the EC forum in which the major decisions were finalised regarding the formula for EC participation in the Western Economic Summits. Following this period, after the Commission's participation at the 1977 London Economic Summit, Community solidarity was notably enhanced during the early years of its summit involvement, due to the fact that a European Council meeting was always convened immediately prior to the economic summit during the period 1977-1981. This was done for the express purpose of allowing European leaders to give consideration to major issues on the summit agenda, and to reach common European positions in advance so as to attend the summit with a united EC front. Although no formal mandate was given to the European Community member states present at the summit, common positions attained at European Councils were transposed to the summit arena, and exercised substantial influence upon the outcomes of the Western Economic Summits during this time.90

This was the case, for example, at the Bonn Summit of 1978, when the European Monetary System (EMS) initiative and a European 'concerted action' package for coordination of macroeconomic policies agreed upon at the Bremen European Council meeting ten days earlier were carried forward to the summit meeting. The positive interaction between the European Council meeting and the summit was emphasised in a comment made by the President of the Commission in a press conference at the conclusion of the 1978 Bonn meeting. He noted with satisfaction "that the Bremen and Bonn meetings had been mutually complementary, which further enabled the Community as such to play a more significant part both in the discussions and in the results achieved".91

However, the convening of a European Council summit immediately prior to the Western Economic Summit did not always guarantee that Community cohesiveness would prevail at the Summit itself. For example, the Tokyo summit of 1979 witnessed the overturning of an EC consensus on oil import quotas which had been established at the Strasbourg European Council session ten days before the summit. In this case, France broke with the agreed Community line, and the U.S. preference for individual national oil import targets prevailed over the Community-wide quotas which had been agreed upon earlier. This summit decision enraged the smaller non-participant EC member states, as they believed that the Big Four had 'betrayed' them in not holding up their interests in the summit forum.

The practice of holding a European Council meeting intentionally before, and in preparation for, the Western Summit conference ceased in 1981. However, European Councils still devote attention to the consideration of issue items which will fall on the agenda at upcoming summit meetings, and also to the discussion of results and decisions reached at the summits.

During the early 1980's, European Council sessions became enmeshed in attempting to iron out technical and minutely-detailed internal workings of the Community, and were bogged down by the British budgetary problem, as well as serious pitfalls in the functioning of the Common Agricultural Policy. These were partially resolved at the Fontainebleau Summit of 1984, which paved the way for movement toward a resolution of Community tension and a more positive and encouraging environment in which the European integration process could flourish. The series of European Councils from 1985-1987 eventually culminated in the signing of the Single European Act in 1987. The consensuses reached and the unified positions which were achieved and adopted at European Councils during the mid- and late-1980's became increasingly important and influential on the international stage as the scope and solidarity of the EC evolved. These decisions have an impact upon the future shape of the global political economy, as Europe's dynamism and growth is fostered by further moves toward economic integration and rationalisation.

These European Council decisions also have affected summit outcomes in specific instances: for example, the approval of the "Delors package" of reforms involving the EC's structural funds, agricultural policy and budgetary discipline at the February 1988 European Council summit at Brussels exerted a major and influential impact upon the 1988 Toronto Summit, particularly regarding agricultural trade subsidies. The Delors package, which gave tangible expression to the legal implications of the SEA and the 1992 initiative, had a significant influence upon Community performance at the 1988 Summit. This phenomenon was presaged in a comment made by Commission President Jacques Delors at a press conference just before the 1988 Toronto Summit:

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