Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

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A. How to position the Commission in an intergovernmental Conference ?

Anyone having taken part in the Maastricht and in the Amsterdam negotiations, can witness that the very function of the Commission in an I.G.C. is less than obvious.

According to article N of the Treaty, it is quite simple: the Commission is an official party at the Conference and therefore fully participates in it. But it does not sign the resulting new Treaty, and for that reason the exercise remains an "Inter-governmental" Conference.

In practice however, it raises a kind of strategic problem as to the position the Commission should represent:

1.Should the Commission act as the depositor of an ideal European construction? It would then repeatedly call for an ultimate goal of integration, and distance itself from any compromise or less than perfect solution.

There is of course more than just utopia in this; there can be a tactical side too, as the May 68 students in Paris had discovered when they advocated: "Be realistic, ask for the impossible".

There is a charm in this very high-geared approach; including that the longer-term objective is not forgotten.

But there are also one fact and two risks attached to it:

-the fact is that a long-term vision of Europe certainly represents an underlying issue of any IGC; but it is an issue which is the most surely and immediately divisive between the Member States. As a result, there is since Maastricht at least an implicit agreement not to raise it, and to proceed in an apparently practical, step by step approach.

-As for the risks, the first one is that the gap between an "ideal" position and a "realistic" one could be such, that the Commission be simply viewed as out of touch, and consequentlymarginalised

-the second risk is that, because an ideal project might include ultimately a sort of supranational kind of Government which could be the Commission or a derivative of it, some would see the Commission as defending corporatist, vested interests.

The Commission has been criticised in the past for such "pro domo" pleadings, usually described - ironically -, as the Commission "acting as a 16th Member State".

2.Abandoning the ideal for the practical, should the Commission simply act as an "honest broker", reconciling the conflicting views? Certainly not, because this uneasy part is played by the rotating presidency. It is always confusing to have two intermediaries, and it would put the Commission in the worst position to have any political voice of its own.

3.Between "utopia" and the "honest broker", the strategy retained by the Commission for the Amsterdam Conference was one which could be described as "the highest possible realistic line". It had to do with pushing upwards as much as possible the outcome of the Conference.

It was embodied in the two main texts of substance produced by the Commission:

-its report on the functioning of Maastricht of May 95;

- its Opinion on the IGC of February 96.

Such an approach implies a number of choices, and a number of tactical consequences, among which focusing on a selection of few issues for maximum efficiency. These main issues are described below.

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