I am reminded of a joke, dimly remembered, about President Reagan meeting Saudi leaders, who complained to him that the popular Star Trek series did not have any Arab figures in it. "That's because it is set in the future", says Reagan, by way of explanation.
What brings this to mind is the opening sentence of the quartet's report, delivered in good time for Thursday's European Council. "This report", it says, "sets out a vision for the future of the Economic and Monetary Union ... ". It should be a very short report indeed.
Actually, it runs to seven pages – modest enough in the circumstances, especially as it "proposes to move, over the next decade, towards a stronger EMU architecture, based on integrated frameworks for the financial sector, for budgetary matters and for economic policy".
And with that, we learn, "All these elements should be buttressed by strengthened democratic legitimacy and accountability". Basically, though, that's it. You can read the details but they are about as informative as the appeals procedure written on the back of a parking ticket.
There are four "essential building blocks", which comprise "an integrated financial framework", "an integrated budgetary framework", an "integrated economic policy framework" and the "necessary democratic legitimacy and accountability of decision-making".
With that, Van Rompuy and his merry persons are playing games. The mood music from Berlin and elsewhere is of extreme urgency, but this report talks of offering a "coherent and complete architecture" that will have to be put in place "over the next decade".
They will, we are then told, "require a lot of further work, including possible changes to the EU treaties at some point in time".
As to the "next steps", to achieve "genuine Economic and Monetary Union", the quartet is suggesting that a report "could" be submitted to the December European Council, with an interim report presented in October 2012.
One does not thus need the Reagan joke here. The report itself is a joke. If the "colleagues" were deliberately setting out to tell the world that they were not up to the job, they could not have done better. The lack of detail is staggering, and the relaxed timing lacks credibility.
Reuters, which has spoken to officials, has been told that progress is expected in a year, although a longer time to change the EU treaty is needed. This does not accord with the leisurely timetable suggested here. They are indeed playing games with us.
One can only assume that the real detail is being kept for the couloirs and the smoke-free rooms. It is too early, they might be thinking, to frighten the horses with the specifics. The trouble is that people were expecting detail and a sense of urgency. This mushroom management approach will likely backfire.
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