24th Sep 2023

Chirac suggests bell to cut off 'endless' summit talks

Boredom with seemingly endless EU summit discussions ran high on Friday, with French president Jacques Chirac suggesting to Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel that she use a "bell" to limit leaders' speaking time during her upcoming EU presidency.

Several EU leaders on Friday complained about the gruelling so-called tours de table which sees every member of the 25 - and soon 27 member - union have a say on the final wording of the summit conclusions.

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A bullish president Chirac told journalists after the meeting that he had given chancellor Merkel, who will from January chair the EU for six months, small "advice" to "limit the speaking time of everyone to three minutes."

"It is impossible for the council [EU leaders' meetings] that we speak endlessly while always saying the same," he said.

The French leader suggested that 15 interventions - the number of EU members before the bloc's 2004 enlargement round - was about the maximum that everyone could endure.

Referring to what he called an "interesting" Thursday evening discussion about enlargement, he said "fifteen" delegations had held "correct interventions" but the following ten had "tired out" the audience.

Mr Chirac himself had during the lengthy 2000 Nice summit, which ran to five days - used a "bell" to cut off his EU colleagues' speaking times - an idea which he reported Mrs Merkel as being "interested" in.

The French president's irritation was shared by Slovakia's prime minister Robert Fico who endured his first formal EU summit. "I believe the new member states will in future open a discussion on how to make these meetings more effective," the Slovak leader said.

He suggested EU leaders should concentrate on crucial subjects like the EU's future and its decision-making, while leaving more of the technical work to minister level.

Another summit debutante, Poland's president Lech Kaczynski, expressed surprise about the cumbersome procedures for drafting the final meeting conclusions, involving 27 prime ministers and their aides.

"I don't recall in my whole life ...that the detailed wording of a document was decided by 54 people at the same time...The whole of today's meeting was devoted to this, even though we had already talked about the same issues last night," he said.


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While the heads of EU institutions are in New York for the UN high level meeting, Spain's EU presidency will try to convince ministers to make Catalan, Basque, and Galician official EU languages.

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