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24th May 2022

EU leaders to meet again at end of January

All 27 EU leaders are to meet again in Brussels at the end of January or in early February to take stock of work on the new inter-governmental treaty and discuss measures aimed at boosting economic growth, EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy said on Thursday (15 December).

"I informed the 27 member states this morning that I will convene a meeting by the end of January or beginning of February," he said during a press conference after a summit with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.

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Apart from thrashing out the details of the inter-governmental agreement on fiscal discipline to which 26 countries apart from the UK signed up to last week, Van Rompuy also said growth and jobs would be a topic of discussion.

"In times of stagnation, in times even of quasi-recession, it is very important to have those topics on the agenda and not to be speaking only of fiscal consolidation," the former Belgian premier said.

On this issue, he sided with employment commissioner Laszlo Andor who last week called the so-called fiscal compact "a joke" because it focuses solely on budget deficits and sanctions, completely ignoring the need to boost employment and economic growth.

Van Rompuy also said he had consulted with the prime ministers of Poland and Denmark - the outgoing and incoming rotating EU presidencies - and with the head of the European Commission, a statement meant to underline the primacy of these institutions when organising meetings of EU leaders, after the leaders of France and Germany said they had agreed on the need to have "monthly" summits during the euro-crisis.

"It is not up to Paris or Berlin to call for EU summits. That is the job of Van Rompuy," one EU diplomat from a non-euro country told this website. But, the source added, whatever the two capitals agree is usually the course Van Rompuy takes anyway.

Another EU official meanwhile said Van Rompuy will decide on the final date after consulting with all 27 leaders in the coming days. "We had a summit on 9 December. There will be the regular one in March. So this one will be somewhere in between," the official said, noting that it comes "pretty close" to the Franco-German call for monthly summits.

On the treaty-drafting calendar, a first draft is set to be put forward at the end of this week by the legal service of the European Council, with a Franco-German paper likely to follow next week. Since Paris and Berlin hope to finish and adopt the new inter-governmental treaty in March, "everything has to go quickly," one EU diplomat said.

One idea floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a press conference earlier this week is to put both the fiscal compact and the legal text establishing the permanent bail-out fund - the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) - into one single document.

But Paris is against this idea, EUobserver understands, because the ESM treaty is for the 17 eurozone members, while the other treaty would be signed and ratified by 26 or fewer, as some elements in the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark and others have begun to question the sovereignty-related implications of this treaty.

The ESM legal mix could also see a greater role for the bail-out institution in scrutinising countries that have subscribed to the inter-governmental treaty, instead of the European Commission, which is responsible for all 27 members. "This is an idea that was in one of the drafts at the 9 December summit," says one diplomat.

"We are entering the creative phase," the source added. "It is going to be quite hectic until the text is finished."

But the UK, whose premier, David Cameron, has been phoning leaders of the treaty-wary countries, may challenge the legality of using EU institutions such as the commission or the European Court of Justice in processes linked to the inter-governmental treaty. Le Figaro's London correspondent quoted Downing Street sources as saying they are looking into "potential conflicts of interests" of these institutions, which should serve the EU treaties only and all 27 member states.

In Berlin, the British views are not being viewed kindly, not only by the government side, but also the opposition. The leader of the German Social Democrats and former foreign minister Frank-Walther Steinmeier told the Rheinische Post that he can see the day coming when the UK will leave the EU altogether.

"I fear that the decisive step for a British exit from the EU has already been accomplished," Steinmeier said in reference to Cameron's veto last week.

Parliament on board

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has selected three members from different groups to participate in the negotiations of the inter-governmental treaty: German MEP Elmar Brok from the centre-right European People's Party, Italian Social-Democrat Roberto Gualtieri and Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt.

French Green MEP Daniel-Cohn Bendit will be a substitute member, replacing one of the other three when they are unable to participate to the sessions of the working group comprising of national diplomats and EU officials, which will start on Monday. The three will brief both the economic and the constitutional affairs committee in the parliament the next day.

Brok, who represented the Parliament in all EU treaty negotiations in the last 20 years, said he would work to secure as much as possible under the "community method", meaning EU institutions.

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