A Nice Mess in Nice

LONDON: A hundred years ago, the humorous English magazine Punch carried a cartoon which depicted a young and nervous curate eating breakfast with his bishop. He was eating a boiled egg, and clearly not enjoying it. The bishop enquired: “I say - is your egg all right?” And the curate replies: “My Lord, it is excellent in parts.”

The cartoon caught the English fancy, and created a catch-phrase still in use today, although it is usually misunderstood and misused. Someone may say: “It’s a bit of a curate’s egg”, when he means that something is a mixture of good and bad. But of course the point of the original joke was that the curate was just being polite: an egg is either good or bad, and his was bad.

This week’s European Summit at Nice (December 7-9) looks like being a curate’s egg. The question is, will it be bad all through and a failure? Or will it be “excellent in parts”? The probable answer is: both. It will almost certainly fail to achieve its immediate objectives; but it may open the door to serious progress afterwards.

The ostensible purpose of the summit is to make those changes in the European Union’s decision-making machinery that would enable it to cope with the admission of at least 12 new members, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe. Everyone knows that these changes ought to be radical, even semi-federal. At the very least, the coming enlargement will call for much more majority voting in the Council of Ministers, if the Union is not be paralyzed by 27 member states and 27 national vetoes.