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Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

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2. The EC struggles to be recognized: 1975-1977

The initial proposal for the convening of an economic summit among the leaders of the five largest western industrialised economies -- the U.S., Japan, West Germany, France, Great Britain -- was put forward by French President Giscard d'Estaing at the final luncheon of the CSCE in Helsinki, in July 1975. The summit was originally envisaged a one-time affair, limited to this Group of Five. However, membership proved to be a contentious issue, as both Italy and Canada pressed their claims to participate. At the time of the first summit, Italy held the Presidency of the European Council, and was thus admitted to the elite grouping. 17 Italy's admission was then utilised by the French --who wished to keep the summit group as small and selective as possible -- as a justification for the exclusion of the European Community.18

Other West European states with strong GNPs who were actively involved in international economic affairs, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, also possessed powerful credentials which could have supported their claims to be present at the summit. However, these states opted to concentrate their energies upon gaining more effective representation through the EC. This preference was a manifestation of their strong wish to promote European solidarity,19 as well as a pragmatic realisation that collective representation through the EC was a more realistic and viable prospect than individual participation for these smaller EC member states.

The first Western Economic Summit took place at Rambouillet France from November 1517, 1975. The EC was not represented. Only a very vague reference was made to the EC in the final summit communiqué, stating that the summit countries intended to intensify their cooperation "in the frameworks of existing institutions as well as all relevant international organisations".20

The question of EC non-participation at Rambouillet surfaced on the agenda of the European Council meeting in Rome (12 December 1975) where the five smaller states of the Community harshly criticised the decision of the British, French, Italian, and German governments to take part individually at the summit, instead of advocating EC participation.21

The Rambouillet summit had been envisaged as a unique and isolated event. However, when the announcement of the next summit meeting occurred, to be hosted by the U.S. in Puerto Rico in June 1976, the Europeans began to seriously examine the question of EC participation, particularly with regard to the role of the non-participating smaller states, and the form which EC representation at the summit should assume.22

The concept of a summit attended by only some Community member states, excluding others, catalysed a bitter and prolific intra-Community debate. This debate was rendered all the more sensitive as it touched upon the very nature of Community competence in international affairs, and upon the direction in which the external identity and foreign policy of the EC would evolve. In the context of the Western Economic Summit, these questions were complicated by the undefined character of the scope and role of the nascent forum within the international arena.

It should be emphasised that no extra European summit countries opposed EC participation: the problem revolved strictly around a political struggle within the Community itself. Fundamentally, the concept of participant and non-participant member states at the summit was politically divisive, as it theoretically entailed the classification of member states into first and second-class entities, in violation of the Rome Treaty.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Den Uyl, gave voice to the suspicion and resentment which this prospect aroused among the smaller states: "There is no more certain method of breaking up the Community. The Community is thus put on one side, and the four will act like a Directorate". 23

Basically, the smaller states of the EC insisted upon Community participation at the summit by the Presidents of the European Council and Commission negotiating on the basis of a fixed and binding mandate to ensure the representation of their interests. The French were utterly opposed to any form of Community presence at the summit table, following the Gaullist conception of international relations by arguing that only sovereign states possessed the requisite authority and legitimacy to participate at the summit. The French also desired to limit the number of summit participants, in an effort to maintain the small, flexible and informal nature of the elite political gathering.

In June 1976, the European Parliament pursued the issue of EC inclusion at the summit , directing two questions to Gaston Thorn, the presiding President-in-Office of the Council of Ministers. The questions dealt with the role of the smaller Community member-states in relation to the Western Economic Summit, and with the precise formula for EC representation at the summit table. Thorn pointed out that no Community powers could be delegated to the four European powers present at the summit, as national governments lacked the legitimacy -- and the willingness -- to act as EC 'ambassadors'.24 Thus, Thorn supported the idea of a compromise formula for EC summit participation, proposed by the Commission President, that the Community be represented in areas of its competence by the Presidents of the Council and the Commission.

However, rigid French opposition and resolute Dutch insistence resulted in Community non-participation at Puerto Rico. In a press conference immediately prior to the Puerto Rico summit, Thorn stated:

The final 1976 Puerto Rico Summit communiqué alluded explicitly, although rather feebly, to the European Community: "Those among us who are members of the European Community intend to make their efforts within its framework".26

At the Brussels European Council (1213 July 1976) the European political heads briefly considered the proceedings and results of the Puerto Rican summit conference, and unanimously agreed that in the event of future summits, member states should consult to decide upon how Community interests should be consolidated, and that issues within Community competence should be dealt with in full compliance with established EC procedures.

At the next European Council meeting in London, although again no formula for Community participation was agreed upon, the European leaders resolved to intensify economic co-ordination among Western industrialised nations through the Western Economic Summit. In addition, another European Council was to be convened before the next economic summit, which would be hosted by the British, for the purpose of reaching a Community consensus on the EC formula for summit participation. 27

Just prior to the Rome European Council (March 1977), the European Parliament produced a vigorous and forceful resolution which received unanimous approval:

At the European Council meeting in Rome, however, the same intra-EC divisions arose: the Benelux countries espoused a legalistic and doctrinaire 'federalist' approach, insisting upon Community representation by a bicephalous delegation of the Council Presidency and the President of the Commission. This 'communautaire' philosophy assumed that the EC representatives would be operating on the basis of a fixed and binding mandate, and would put forward one single and coherent Community position. The French remained hostile to such an arrangement. The Gaullist line preferred by Giscard held that international summitry should be limited to sovereign states; according to this approach, EC inclusion was irrelevant and illegitimate. Nevertheless, Giscard partially conceded under pressure, and a compromise formula was finally achieved. The European leaders released the following statement, reflecting the consensus that had been attained:

This compromise formula for EC participation at the Western Economic Summit represented a more pragmatic and balanced "parallel" approach30, which reflected the realities of the 14 developing Community foreign policy process. At this time, the Commission was progressively accepted as an equal and necessary component in Community affairs, manifest in its participation in European Council sessions and in EPC discussions.

Proponents of the "parallel" or "cooperative federalist" school of thought argued that the Commission could be present at the summit without replacing or eliminating the larger member states, in a complementary parallel capacity. To accommodate this new progression, a 'pooling of national sovereignties' would occur, permitting the representation of Community positions and opinions where necessary in areas of Community competence, without a fixed or binding mandate.31

After the intra-Community debate had been resolved, U.S. President Jimmy Carter displayed his interest in the inclusion of the EC in the process of international economic summitry. In April 1977, a month before the London Summit, Carter invited Roy Jenkins, the President of the Commission, to the White House to discuss the potential European role.32 American interest in the participation of the EC was a product of the new attitude which prevailed in the Carter Administration, which promoted a more institutionalised "trilateral" summit format--result-oriented meetings of political decision-makers from the U.S., Japan and the EC -- as opposed to the more relaxed original "Library Group" summit conception.

The trilateralist conception of summitry supported EC inclusion, as the Americans believed that negotiating and bargaining with a single preconstructed 'European' consensus position, presented to the Japanese and American representatives in a "Group of Three" forum, would be more constructive than attempting to reconcile the four individual European national positions in a looser summit format. The U.S. may have attributed more authority and responsibility to the institutions of the Community than the four European summit participants themselves actually attributed to them. While the "Trilateralists" acknowledged the crucial catalysing capability of 'political will', they believed that summitry could only serve to cap international negotiations among officials. 33 The period 1977-341980 marked the high tide of trilateralist summitry, characterised by lengthy and exhaustive preparations, complex organizational infrastructure, detailed final communiqués and persistent follow up evaluations of summit commitments.

Thus, in 1977 the European Community, as such, finally gained access to the elite summit club. At the London Summit itself, however, there were still seemingly artificial constraints placed upon Community competence. The U.K. Prime Minister Callaghan held the Presidency of the Council, and as summit host had considerable influence over the agenda. Even so, the Commission President, Roy Jenkins, was excluded from the first day of proceedings, which involved discussions on the international economic and monetary situation. He was admitted to the second day, when the agenda touched upon topics such as balance of payments deficits, international trade, energy, and relations with LDCs. It was obvious that the seemingly arbitrary delineation of Community competence at the London meeting was intended solely as a political gesture to placate the French President. Still, Giscard poignantly displayed his dissatisfaction by refusing to attend the official dinner on the eve of the summit, where the President of the Commission was invited to dine with the Seven.34 At the concluding press conference, Jenkins stated:

In addition to participating fully in the discussions on international trade, where the Community has exclusive competence, the Commission also contributed to the text of the final communiqué: concerning the North-South dialogue, in particular drawing upon its own experience gained through the "STABEX" fund which established a mechanism for the stabilisation of Third World export earnings, as a component of the Community's Lome Convention which regulates relations with ACP countries.36 More important than its substantive contributions to the summit outcome, however, was the affirmation of the Community's legitimacy as an international actor conferred by the Summit Seven.

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