Saturday

25th Mar 2017

Constitution foresees fundamentally different EU

The Union and the way it functions is set to be radically altered under further proposals, unveiled on Tuesday, for a European Constitution.

This second part of the Constitution, which in some 180 pages details the policies of the EU, represents a substantial shift towards the community method and away from the individual member state.

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Majority voting will become the rule while the number of areas where the European Parliament can co-legislate with member states has almost doubled to 70.

Justice and Home affairs, one of the few remaining bastion’s of member states’ veto, is where the most substantial changes have been proposed.

Majority voting general rule

Qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament have been introduced to areas such as control of borders, and asylum and immigration, judicial co-operation, and the prevention of crime.

Issues concerning intellectual property, energy and social security will also be subject to co-decision with the European Parliament, according to the draft Constitution.

These aims, which will go some way to fulfilling the dreams of some for further integration, have also been driven by a pragmatic need to make the Union function when its membership expands to 25 next year.

However these proposals, which include making the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding and initial plans for a European public prosecutor are set to be strongly opposed in some member states.

UK problematic

The UK, particularly, will have problems with the inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights – which will enshrine the right to strike in the treaty. At the time of its making along with the Nice Treaty, London only agreed to give the Charter the go-ahead on the very condition that it was not binding.

Another problem is the EU public prosecutor – but here the UK is not alone. Its fears are shared by Ireland and the Scandinavian countries, who believe that the office which will investigate fraudulent use of EU money will make national prosecutors obsolete.

However, the article does make some concessions to their fears by saying that such an office can only be set up if all member states agree – leading some advocates such as Belgian MEP Anne van Lancker to claim that it will never be set up because 25 member states will never be able to agree.

Horse trading

However neither the federalists nor the eurosceptics are happy. Federalists are irritated that the UK succeed in "closing the door" on foreign policy – by removing a much stronger article which would have taken away member states’ right to veto.

They are also concerned that difficult articles on division of power between institutions have not been altered since their unveiling last month. They fear that these proposals, including the controversial permanent president of the European Council and a foreign minister for Europe, will simply be left as the Convention allotted time for discussion runs out.

Pro-integration German MEP Elmar Brok said the proposals reflected "minority positions" in the Convention. "It is very obvious that some of the larger countries are concentrating on their own national interests rather than on those of the Union as a whole", said the head of the EPP delegation in the Convention.

On the other hand, eurosceptics are also up in arms. MEP Jens-Peter Bonde says that the Europe’s Constitution will go against his native Danish constitution as it establishes the EU’s legal personality and for the first time plainly spells out what has been established in EU court law: that EU law has supremacy over national law.

Different versions

MEPs, MPs and government representatives who make up the Convention on Europe’s future, will get together to discuss the matter in Brussels on Friday and Saturday. In the run up different factions with the 105-member Convention will come up together to agree their final won't-cross-this-line positions.

In all there are just three more Convention plenary session – leading to some speculation that, as time runs out, different versions of the treaty will have to be handed over to member states at the Thessaloniki Summit on June 20.

MAIN ELEMENTS OF WHOLE TEXT

* Permanent president of the European Council

* Creation of the post of foreign minister

* Door to majority voting on foreign policy left a tiny bit ajar: If all member states decide the foreign minister should take action; then they will decide by qualified majority voting on any action that the foreign minister proposes

* The Union shall have a legal personality

* The supremacy of Union law over national law is written down for the first time

* The Charter of Fundamental Rights is legally binding

* Eurozone countries get more powers – possibility to elect their own president for two years

* Co-decision between the European Parliament and member states will become the general rule

* New powers for the Union in areas such as asylum and immigration, energy, space research and energy

* Member states will be bound by a terrorism solidarity clause

* The Convention method will become the normal way to make any treaty changes in the future

Ombudsman probes secret Council lawmaking

Emily O'Reilly has launched an inquiry into whether the EU Council, where member states are represented, allows sufficient public scrutiny of the drafting of laws.

EU struggles with multi-speed idea

EU leaders meeting in Brussels insisted on staying united after Brexit but are still divided over fears of creating new 'elite clubs' within the bloc.

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