6th Jun 2023

The trade-offs behind the scene at Laeken

Minutes of backstage negotiations between the EU heads of state in Laeken, obtained by the EUobserver, shed a new light on European Summit talks and unveil how the EU leaders argue with each other. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted to exchange the EU arrest warrant against the seat for the European Food Authority, while French president Jacques Chirac proposed that “Sweden gets the seat for a European model agency,” as they have beautiful girls.

The Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said at the Laeken Summit on Saturday that the heads of state of the EU preferred not to reach a decision on the allocation of seats for European agencies instead of entering “obscure trade offs” and late night negotiations, but the unofficial minutes of the meeting show the negotiations between the 15 followed the old European path of horse-trading. Moreover, suspending negotiations benefited Belgium, which got the provisory seat of the European Food Authority.

Berlusconi to exchange arrest warrant against food authority

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The EU leaders failed to reach agreement on agencies, due to opposition by Italy and France. The minutes of negotiations unveil that Italy rejected the list of locations proposed by the Belgian presidency because Parma was not assigned on the list the seat of the European Food Authority, while the Italian prime minister believed that due to the well known Parma ham, his city should get the assignment. Mr Berlusconi reproached to his colleagues that he agreed with the European arrest mandate, opposed by 72 percent of Italians, because he got political promises that Parma would get the seat for the Food Agency. He insisted Parma is the symbol of the “good cuisine” and therefore it should get the seat. Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt however replied that the culinary attractions should not be the reason for allocating European agencies.

Berlusconi wanted to trade agencies with Finland

Mr Berlusconi was so keen on winning the Food Agency for Parma that he even proposed to exchange the two agencies Italy got under the Belgian proposal (European civil protection for Milan and the European office of external borders surveillance to Rome) with the European food authority that should have been allocated to Helsinki under the proposal. Mr Berlusconi even thought about splitting the European Food authority thematically (the ham agency, the fish agency, and so on) in order to give the possibility to more countries to host agencies.

The failure of Silvio Berlusconi and of Jacques Chirac to accept the proposal of the Belgian presidency led the negotiations to a deadlock and the 11 unallocated European Agencies, some of which will have to start working very soon, remained unseated. To console Sweden for not getting any assignment on the Belgian list, Mr Chirac proposed that a European Model Agency be located in Sweden, as they have beautiful girls. The remark was said not to please Swedish foreign affairs minister Anna Lindh.

Did Belgium plan the deadlock?

Diplomatic sources commented for EUobserver that a failure to reach agreement on agencies’ seats benefited to Belgium and the deadlock might have been planned. Although Belgium did not claim any seat, it got, in the end, the provisory seat of the Food Authority, on grounds that the Agency had to start working early next year and needs a seat. “It was an intelligent and subtle political manoeuvre of Belgium to propose a list definitely not acceptable for some member states, note the deadlock and in the end get the provisory seat of the food authority. And besides, provisory could in the end become definitive, as it is difficult to move the seat of an established institution,” a French diplomat in Brussels commented for EUobserver.

The EU countries have to decide with unanimity on the allocation of seats for European institutions. The Belgian presidency of the European Union proposed the following seats for twelve agencies:

List of seats proposed by Belgium

Eurojust: The Hague

The European Police College: London

The European Food Authority: Helsinki

The European Air Security Agency: Cologne

The European Maritime Security Agency: Lisbon

The European observatory for migration and asylum: Athenes

The European rail security Agency: Lille

The Community Agency for exchanging information on visas: Strasbourg

The European civil protection authority: Milan

The European technologic and information security agency: Barcelona

The European external border surveillance bureau: Rome

The experimental fusion reactor: Cadanache (France)


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