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28th Jan 2023

MEPs vent fury at Van Rompuy over Franco-German plan

  • Mr Van Rompuy admitted he had seen the 'non-paper', but claimed it was not discussed (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Tuesday (8 February) was confronted with an avalanche of criticism from MEPs for allegedly letting France and Germany run the show when it comes to economic governance of the eurozone, at the expense of other member states and EU institutions.

The heated discussions revolved around the "Pact for Competitiveness" drafted by France and Germany and circulated in an informal way a few days before an EU leaders meeting last Friday. The six-point plan, seen by EUobserver, suggested, amongst other proposals, the abolition of salary indexation systems, greater harmonisation of member-state corporate tax rates and an overhaul of national pension systems.

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Speaking in front of the parliament's political-group leaders and committee chairs, Mr Van Rompuy denied that the document was the origin of a fresh drive to deliver further economic co-ordination in the eurozone.

"Although there have been some documents going around, there has not been any suggestion, any plan put on the table at the Council. Not at all. No proposal whatsoever," Mr Van Rompuy insisted, while the leader of the Socialist group, Martin Schulz, waved the document in front of him.

"I'm speaking about the Council, I was there – you were not," he said as the German politician continued to point to the paper. "There were no proposals put on the table. Not by one country, two countries. Nothing."

Asked if he had seen the draft Mr Schulz was waving, the EU official said: "I saw the document. But it's not a Franco-German one, it was not presented to the Council, it was not discussed there. This is not a non-paper of the Council," he insisted. In Brussels jargon, a non-paper is an informal discussion document drafted by EU institutions on sensitive topics.

The former Belgian Prime Minister did acknowledge, however, that there were talks on how to "strengthen economic governance even more" and stressed several times that all 27 EU leaders tasked him to explore such options in the coming weeks, ahead of a special eurozone summit in March.

The concrete proposals will be drafted "in close co-operation with the European Commission" and possibly with consultation of the European Parliament ahead of the March summit, Mr Van Rompuy added.

"I can only swear on the [EU] treaty, not the community matter," he insisted, when pressed by MEPs about the prevalence of member states taking decisions at the expense of other EU institutions.

Even centre-right leader Joseph Daul, from the same political family as Mr Van Rompuy and most leaders in the European Council, said: "Economic governance has to be dealt with and debated in a community framework" and that member states should not "impose anything" on others.

The head of the Liberals in the EU Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, himself a former Belgian Prime Minister, also criticised the "inter-governmental approach" reflected by the Franco-German pact.

"I received the paper 24 hours before the summit and I heard there were prime ministers who didn't get the chance to read it before the start of the session, so they didn't even knew what they were discussing," he said.

"We need to make decisions based on proposals by the European Commission. That is what the Lisbon Treaty is about, not an organisation of national states," Mr Verhofstadt argued.

Mr Van Rompuy's insistence that there were no conflicting views on anything discussed at the summit - including economic governance and the events in Egypt - was even likened by German Green MEP Rebecca Harms to statements by the Politbureau, the main decision-making body in the Soviet Union.

"No matter how meagre the results are, we always get reports of how smooth everything went. We need more honest declarations which pinpoint the problems," Ms Harms said.

"The Franco-German pact is the title used everywhere instead of what was actually discussed and I think this stands for the disaster brought about by Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy," she went on. "There was not one single criticism from Mr Van Rompuy or the European Commission. It seems like you're playing hide and seek and it is difficult to believe that the Council understands the community matter."

The Franco-German entente and the side-lining of Mr Van Rompuy was "unfair" and put him in an "embarrassing position", but was also "very clumsy" of Berlin and Paris, British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff told this website.

"Perhaps Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel are not as in tune with the EU as they may have been in the past. They are also under pressure from the UK to do everything in an inter-governmental way. But they should stand up to Mr Cameron. He also has to abide by the treaties, despite the fact his country is not in the eurozone."

Arguing that Berlin - traditionally a staunch supporter of EU institutions and the "community matter" - has "succumbed" to French and British bullying, Mr Duff said he was disappointed by Ms Merkel. Himself part of the parliamentary delegation that negotiated the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Duff had hoped that the German chancellor, at that time in charge of chairing EU meetings, had grown to appreciate the "importance of the community method."

"What we are up against now is the weakness of the German position and bullying of the Brits who threaten anyone with a referendum. If the European Commission and the parliament don't stand up for themselves and the spirit of the treaty, then we're in real trouble," he warned.

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