Last week, the blog hoped that the EU's summit to discuss the 2007-2013 budget would collapse "ignominiously." The outcome has exceeded all expectations on this front, as the EU's national leaders settled down to an undignified scrap, and left Brussels like a pack of snarling rogues, with muttered imprecations and outright insults being bandied about.
Chirac called Blair "pathetic." Blair said he wouldn't be "called out" by someone like Chirac on what Europe should look like. Germany's Chancellor Schroeder supported Chirac and laid the "blame" for the summit's collapse at the feet of Blair and Holland's premier Balkenende.
Many will deplore the unmannerly performance of the politicians. Certainly Chirac's cynicism, in getting the whole dispute rolling - conveniently bringing up the question of the British rebate whilst refusing to discuss the possibility of agrarian reform - was nothing short of sick-making. But Chirac has always disgusted men and women of taste, and at least the politicians were no longer even bothering with the pretence that they had some kind of grandiose vision of what Europe could be. Instead, they openly traded insults in the (supposed) interests of their respective nations.
The EU Commission now has an opportunity to step in and give an impression of statesmanlike restraint, with calls to "get Europe back on the tracks" and the like. Commissioner Wallström is well placed for this role, although her keenest attention is still focussed on her native Sweden, where she is hoping to take over as Prime Minister. Commissioner Verheugen, meanwhile, has been highly active over the past week, seeking to preserve his model of EU expansion. He wants to prevent the policy of expansion from getting too much flak for the demise of the draft constitution.
Verheugen is doing his manful best to protect his pet project, but the central question raised by the voters' rejection remains - should the EU be composed of many nations within a loosely federal framework, or should it be a smaller number of highly-integrated, centrally-steered countries? This is the question which Tony Blair, who now takes over the 6 months' rotating presidency, will attempt to get to grips with. His first official speech on the topic will be on Thursday. Prepare for a vast eructation of Gallic bile.
Hero von Esens: EU Budget, the British Rebate, and the Hope Budget Talks Will Collapse "Ignominiously"