Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Finance ministers in secret plot over constitution

  • An ECOFIN conspiracy? EU finance ministers are said to be plotting to keep their influence in the draft constitution (Photo: European Commission)

Finance ministers are said to be plotting to retain more influence in the proposed European constitution - at the expense of other institutions, according to European media reports.

The group of EU Finance Ministers - known as the ECOFIN council - reached a secret common position on the constitution at an informal meeting in Stresa, Italy, last month, says Der Standard, quoting diplomats.

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EU sources are quoted as saying, "basically, they want to lessen the role of other institutions in favour of ECOFIN".

Budget and Stability Pact in ECOFIN's sights

There are two main targets for the ECOFIN council, the Stability and Growth Pact - which sets rules for the 12 countries that share the euro - and the EU budget.

The Finance Ministers are said to disagree with the proposal in the constitution that the European Commission could start proceedings against Member States under the Stability Pact without the consent of Finance Ministers.

Currently, the Commission recommends action against a Member State if it breaks the rules of the Stability Pact, the main rule being that euro zone countries have to keep their budget deficits below three percent of GDP. France, Germany and Portugal are all currently in breach of these rules.

But, before any action can be taken, it must be approved by a qualified majority of ECOFIN ministers.

The ministers are said to believe that this must remain the status quo and that the Commission should not be given the power to begin action on its own initiative.

Parliament also in their sights

Finance Ministers are also thought to want to curb the power of the European Parliament in the proposed constitution - especially on budgetary matters.

They want MEPs to have an advisory role when the EU is drawn up, but the draft constitition proposes that the Parliament should have the final say on the spending programmes. Finance ministers also want to keep the need for unanimity on budgetary matters, whereas the draft constitution text proposes that qualified majority voting be used.

Fierce reaction

MEPs reacted furiously to the rumours.

Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, one of the MEPs involved in drafting the constitution, told the Financial Times, "they are trying to destroy our work".

Johannes Voggenhuber, a Green MEP and also a member of the Convention that drew up the constitution, went further, saying that this was "a plot against democracy and the Parliaments in Europe".

The Austrian Finance Ministry emphatically denied the rumours, saying that "not one word of this is true", according to Der Standard.

But the FT claims to have seen a document detailing the Finance Ministers' objections. The document will be discussed by the IGC, which meets today in Brussels.

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