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24th Jul 2021

Germany revives EU treaty change debate

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has revived the idea of EU treaty change ahead of a summit in Brussels aimed at agreeing on binding reform contracts.

"We have a situation in Europe, where Germany is often accused of baulking at certain developments. This is not the case. We are among those who say that we must change the treaties if the legal base is insufficient," she told German Parliament on Wednesday (18 December).

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Changing the EU treaties is a complicated and lengthy process. And once completed, several countries - including Germany - have a requirement to hold national referendums if there is a substantial transfer of competences from national to EU level.

In 2005, after four years of negotiations, the EU Constitution was struck down in referendums in France and Netherlands.

It took another two years to renegotiate the text. The resulting Lisbon Treaty was struck down in a referendum in Ireland. The treaty came into force in 2009, after passing in a second Irish referendum.

But Merkel indicated that past difficulties should not weigh on future actions.

"Ever since the Lisbon Treaty we have the situation that everyone says we can change everything except the EU treaties. I do not think this is the way to develop a truly functional Europe," she said.

"I know that it is partly difficult to push through treaty changes in various nations. But who wants more Europe must be willing to draw new rules for certain competences," Merkel added.

But she gave no details on what changes Berlin is seeking.

German officials also preferred to stick to "general comments" about the treaty change rather than give concrete examples on why it would be needed.

"We are not blackmailing," a senior German official said.

"We are simply trying to advocate in favour of transposing the lessons of the past in a new treaty so that the mistakes will not be repeated in the future," the source added.

The official pointed out that the Lisbon Treaty was created before the financial and economic crisis which itself resulted in several new pacts and reforms.

But an EU source in Brussels meanwhile noted that Germany "always brings up treaty change" when it doesn't want talks to go in a certain direction.

In this case, this direction is calls by France, Italy and Spain for more "solidarity instruments" - such as cheaper loans or grants - in return for undertaking to carry out reforms.

"Ownership" of reforms is at the core of the German stance in the upcoming EU summit.

The EU may have may have more control of national budgets and greater room to make policy recommendations but Berlin is frustrated that much of it stays on paper and is never transposed into action at national level.

"We all get recommendations in spring that should be implemented at national level. These recommendations are met with more or less enthusiasm - Germany is here not much better than the others - and then life goes on. So far these recommendations did not prove to be binding," Merkel said in the Bundestag.

That is why Germany is pushing on Thursday to get an agreement on binding "reform partnerships."

They would be negotiated between national governments and the EU commission, with the involvement of national parliaments.

"Because these are mostly national competences - for instance social policy, labour market policies or the functioning of administrations - parliaments have to approve. Otherwise the entire thing would not be binding," Merkel explained.

The EU official in Brussels played down expectations of a final deal on the "reform partnerships" or the solidarity mechanisms. "This will be for June next year," the source said.

Germany gets its way on reform 'contracts'

Germany says fellow EU leaders have "accepted the principle" of binding reform contracts that will transfer further sovereignty from national level to Brussels.

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