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Overlooked powers behind Europe's throne
financial times ^ | March 29, 2002 | Francesco Guerrera and Daniel Dombey

Posted on 04/03/2002 7:26:42 AM PST by It'salmosttolate

Overlooked powers behind Europe's throne

There are 30 diplomats who shape the majority of EU laws, but most citizens and businesses
know nothing about them, write Francesco Guerrera and Daniel Dombey

Published: March 31 2002 17:36 | Last Updated: March 31 2002 17:54

They do not make headline-grabbing soundbites, they do not boast about their influence, and if you met them in the street you would not recognise them. But you would be foolish to ignore them.

They are the invisible powers behind the European Union throne: 30 diplomats who shape the majority of EU laws in weekly meetings behind closed doors.

While the press and the business community focus incessantly on the European Commission's latest uttering or the umpteenth squabble among national ministers, these eminences grises do most of the work that really matters in an obscure body called the Committee of Permanent Representatives, or Coreper.

Several times a week, the 15 member states' ambassadors and deputy ambassadors are swallowed up by the architectural monstrosity that is the Justius Lipsius European Council building in central Brussels. When they emerge several hours later, they have usually taken decisions that will have a direct and important impact on European businesses and consumers.

The commission may make proposals and the European parliament may be proud of its role as a "co-legislator", but unless the Excellencies and deputy Excellencies say so, these proposals will never become law.

These diplomats are essential for the smooth working of the EU because they do much of the work their political masters are often thought to perform. They prepare the ground for ministers' meetings, co-ordinate the results of working groups and legislate in their own right. Indeed, a recent high-profile decision by ministers to release E450m (£270m) of EU funds for a satellite project called Galileo copied the conclusions Coreper had reached word for word.

"This is the forum where I really feel I can have some influence," says Kare Halonen, Finland's deputy ambassador, who sits on the committee involved with most of the nuts-and-bolts issues in Europe's drive for a smoothly functioning single market. "It's very concrete work. It's really legislative work. The bigger part of legislation entering into force in my country is something that has been decided in Brussels."

Finland's situation is replicated throughout the Union. Every important piece of legislation has to go through one of Coreper's two incarnations: the deputies' body, which deals with the regulatory issues that can transform businesses' balance sheets, and the ambassadors' gathering, which focuses on "big picture" issues such as foreign policy and general economic affairs.

Wih the typical Alice in Wonderland logic of Brussels, the deputies' group is called Coreper I, while the ambassadors rejoice in the title of Coreper II. But then it is the deputies who really get to grips with the legislation that changes EU citizens' lives and businesses' fortunes.

Yet while Brussels' 15,000 lobbyists swarm around the European parliament, whose amendments to legislation are often subsequently discarded, they bother Coreper far less.

This oversight is rash since, for example, it is the Coreper I officials who will put their minds to a working definition of which consumers should qualify for the next phase of energy liberalisation - a crucial decision for many European energy companies. It is they who will try to hammer out guidelines for a European patent that business has been clamouring for. And it is they who will provide the initial response to the commission's plans on the new takeover code.

Together with 15 Members of the European parliament, the deputies also have the task of salvaging legislation on which EU countries and the parliament remain divided, through what is called the "conciliation" process.

These are all issues of central importance for business - but rare is the businessman who is aware of the crucial forum in which they are discussed. The reason for such an apparent paradox stems from the patchwork nature of EU decision-making. Although the commission and the parliament constantly try to glean more powers from national capitals, member states have jealously clung to their key role in EU legislation.

However, as national politicians meet only a few times a year, they cannot be weighed down with technical details. And although national capitals are in touch with their ambassadors and deputy ambassadors before a Coreper meeting, the diplomats have considerable leeway to take decisions. Hence the importance of Coreper I in deciding or smoothing over important political or technical issues.

The irony of career diplomats, who have been trained to deal with international tensions and represent their countries at glamorous receptions, being responsible for nitty-gritty European law is not lost on some of them.

"I am probably the only civil servant in the Finnish ministry of foreign affairs who has nothing to do with foreign affairs," says Mr Halonen.

While the commission is known for frantic horse-trading and the parliament struggles to be heard, the atmosphere at Coreper is akin to that of a gentleman's club.

Coreper I and II meet twice or three times a week. Their workload and the sessions' length increases progressively during each six-monthly rotating presidency of the EU, as the country in charge tries to pack in as much legislation as possible before its tenure ends.

When the 15 diplomats meet in the cavernous Justius Lipsius, usually at about 10am, their discussions take place in French, English and German, although these days English is the most prevalent and German the least used.

Despite the collegiate nature of the body, not everyone talks. Since EU countries are far from equal - France, Germany, the UK and Italy all have 10 votes each in a forum where a decision has to be backed by 62 votes out of 87 - the bigger countries tend to have most sway, and consequently talk the most.

France and the UK, both famously proud of their diplomatic services, are often the most influential voices at the table and tend to dominate Coreper meetings, no matter which country holds the EU presidency.

Some of the smaller countries are most often appreciated when they stay silent, since in an EU of 15 states a mere tour de table can take the best part of an hour - a problem that will be exacerbated by the union's forthcoming enlargement.

The conversations are technical, and not all of those present confess to enjoying the meetings, which often stretch into the small hours of the night. But many Coreper I officials have spent much of their careers working in their countries' more financially or commercially oriented ministries, so they are used to grappling with such obtuse subjects as how much a letter should weigh in a free market.

When it comes to the crunch, it is rare for the participants to call a vote - and yet they tend to know which way the discussion is going. No matter how collegiate or technical an EU institution is, politics is never far away.

"It's nearly always the case that at the back of your mind you are counting the votes when the discussion proceeds," confesses one of the participants.

Such diplomatic finesse is sometimes taken to extremes. Partisans of a particular directive should be warned if the ambassadors or the ministers are meeting around the octagonal table in the Justius Lipsius. Participants complain that eye-contact is much harder than over the traditional rectangular tables, and that consequently it can be harder to reach agreement. "How can you talk if you can't look the other person in the eye?" one diplomat complains.

On such details, the fate of legislation governing 15 countries - and their largest businesses - can sometimes hang. Would-be lobbyists would do well to brush up on their table manners.

Click here to read the first article in this series

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Germany; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: conspiracy; europelist; nwo
Next mtg in US
1 posted on 04/03/2002 7:26:42 AM PST by It'salmosttolate
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To: It'salmosttolate
Imagine the size of the bribes, kickbacks and payoffs that these crooked European bureaucrats must attract!
2 posted on 04/03/2002 7:36:41 AM PST by Tacis
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To: It'salmosttolate
Can we agree to call the "Committee of Permanent Representatives" by it's shorter name, the Illuminati?
3 posted on 04/03/2002 8:01:26 AM PST by Doug Loss
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To: *Europe_list;*"NWO";*Conspiracy;Black Jade
Check the Bump List folders for articles related to and descriptions of the above topic(s) or for other topics of interest.
4 posted on 04/03/2002 9:22:20 AM PST by Free the USA
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To: thud
a pointie haired eurocrat ping
5 posted on 04/03/2002 10:13:39 AM PST by Dark Wing
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To: Doug Loss
Ive never been one to believe in that stuff but this group sounds an awful lot like how the Illuminati is supposed to like to run things kinda eerie...
6 posted on 04/03/2002 10:18:33 AM PST by weikel
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To: weikel
$#!t by any other name is still $#!t, and still smells as foul.
7 posted on 04/03/2002 1:27:28 PM PST by AFreeBird
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To: AFreeBird
Actually just saw a website by a group claiming to be the Illuminati very anti socialist group so they claim( with the one exception they want to sterilize everyone and reproduction will be by license only).
8 posted on 04/03/2002 1:50:16 PM PST by weikel
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