EU summit squabbles over agency share-out BY MARTIN FLETCHER, EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT AND MELISSA KITE
A WEEKEND summit designed to rebuild public confidence in the European Union ended with the leaders of a bloc that aspires to global eminence angrily trading schoolboy insults.
The issue was the allocation of a dozen new job-creating, money-spinning EU agencies. The casus belli was a proposal by Belgium, which at present holds the EU presidency, that the coveted European Food Safety Authority should go to Helsinki. Never, cried Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, who was championing Parma, home of the famed cured ham. "Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this."
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister, who was chairing the Saturday-night meeting. shot back: "The gastronomic attraction of a region is no argument for the allocation of an EU agency."
Austria's Wolfgang Schüssel protested that his country had been offered nothing. Goran Persson, of hi-tech Sweden, complained that the information technology security agency had gone to Spain.
At that, President Chirac of France intervened to ask: "How would it be if Sweden got an agency for training models, since you have such pretty women?" Signor Berlusconi refused to back down. "I already accepted the (European arrest) warrant. My final word is No," he declared, his voice rising to a shout. "I love Parma, but you will never get it if you argue like that," the irate Italian was told by Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor.
M Chirac returned to the fray. "Lille is also a candidate. It lies in the heart of the political landscape," he pointed out, but by that stage France had no supporters. It had already snared four agencies, and had refused to surrender the Nantes-bound Maritime Safety Agency to Lisbon. In the end Britain did not get the European police college and no one else got anything either.
Mr Verhofstadt's patience ran out. "That's it," he said, and closed the summit, leaving Spain to sort out the mess when it takes over the EU presidency in January.
The main purpose of the Laeken summit was to launch a two-year drive to close the gap between the EU and its disgruntled citizens by making it more open, accountable and efficient. Citizens "feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny", the heads of government said in a declaration agreed earlier in the day.
Paavo Lipponen, the Finnish Prime Minister, was unrepentant about his counterparts' inability to rise above national interests. He insisted Finland would not give up its claim to the Food Safety Authority, but urged a more civilised debate. "It will not help for Prime Minister Berlusconi to beat the table with a Parma ham and me with a Finnish Christmas ham," he said.
EU's 'defining moment' leaves leaders squabbling Ian Black and Michael White in Brussels
EU leaders face angry questions about their commitment to reform after beginning the great debate on the union's future - then ending their summit in Laeken with ugly squabbles about which countries should get new EU agencies.
The Laeken Declaration said the union was at a "defining moment in its existence", but the reality was less impressive.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, demanded loudly that Parma should get the food safety authority which the Belgians were planning to give to Helsinki.
"I love Parma," the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder said, "but you'll never get it if you argue like that."
Wolfgang Schüssel, the Austrian chancellor, complained he had got nothing in the division of the spoils.