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Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

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1980: VENICE (22-23 JUNE)

Substantive bargaining at the Venice Summit was handicapped by the fact that 1980 was an election year for the U.S. and West Germany, and that no Japanese head of government attended due to the death of Prime Minister Ohira. Thus, domestic factors inhibited the three most powerful economies present. Francesco Cossiga of Italy held the Presidency of the European Council, accompanied by Roy Jenkins as Commission President to represent the European Community.

One week prior to the Venice Economic Summit, a European Council was convened (12-13 June). It largely foreshadowed many of the discussions and conclusions which would transpire at the summit. The Europeans discussed international questions of major concern,focussing upon the political and economic situation in the Middle East and upon the oil crisis. They also harshly condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

With regard to the summit discussions on traditional macroeconomic subjects at the Venice meeting, the political leaders affirmed their support for decisions which had been reached by their sherpas in the preparatory phase for the summit. Top priority was given to the reduction of inflation and a long term programme to separate economic growth from oil consumption in industrialised economies.44 North-South issues also predominated in summit discussions, although no definitive agreement was achieved: the leaders requested their sherpas to carry out a thorough review of development and aid policies and to present their discoveries at the next summit in 1981. 45 The European Commission participated in all economic discussions, contributing where possible to the formulation of compromise solutions among the summiteers, but not advancing any major initiatives of its own.

Political events of paramount significance monopolised the international scene in late 1979 and early 1980, and East-West issues once again monopolised attention during this time. The November 1979 seizure of American hostages in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 presented the heads of state and government of the industrialised world with new difficulties, and rendered it difficult for them to consider economic factors as distinct from political events. Consequently, the agenda of the Venice summit was dominated by political issues.

In 1980, the European Commission itself was not recognised as a legitimate participant in political debates at the summit table. Most political topics treated in the economic summitry process fall within the jurisdiction of the European Political Cooperation (EPC). Due to the intergovernmental nature of the EPC, it was exclusively the Council Presidency which represented the EPC at the summit table.

The position of the European summit participants diverged from that of the Americans on East-West issues. The Americans assumed a much more hardline stance than France and West Germany with regard to Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the boycotting of the Moscow Olympics. However, the Americans and Europeans were able to reach a consensus by focussing upon the offensive presence of the Soviet troops, rather than upon the more contentious issues of measures which should be adopted in response to the Soviet actions. The summit participants agreed that partial withdrawal of Soviet troops -- if confirmed -- would only be useful if they represented the first stage of a total and permanent withdrawal.46 The final political statement of the Seven on Afghanistan strongly resembled the declaration which had been issued one week prior to the Venice Summit at the European Council meeting, condemning the Soviet occupation as unacceptable. The statement did not go beyond calling for the immediate and total withdrawal of the occupying troops and confirming the Olympic boycott by those governments that had already decided on it.47 The leaders also approved political statements on the topics of hostage-taking, hijacking and refugees.

Toronto, January 1990

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