Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Constitution ins and outs

After a weekend of gruelling negotiation, Europe may have its own Constitution. However, there are still a number of important issues on the table.

Sticking points

Voting arrangements - The Constitution text proposes a double majority system, to be introduced in 2009, with 50% of member states representing 60% of the population needed for a decision to be taken. This is supported by France and Germany to whom it would give more power but strongly opposed by Poland and Spain. They want to stick with the current Nice Treaty which gives them each 27 votes to Germany's 29 votes. Germany has almost double the population. A possible solution may be to put off the introduction of the system until 2014.

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God - Whether to have a reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the Constitution's preamble is another source of major dispute. Again Poland and Spain are sitting on the same side of the fence being strongly in favour of such a reference. However, it is traditionally strongly opposed by France and Belgium and more recently Denmark, Finland and Greece. At the moment the draft Constitution text speaks about "drawing inspiration from the cultural religious and humanist inheritance of Europe ...".

Commissioners - The Constitution suggests reducing the number of voting Commissioners to 15 after 2009. This has been strongly opposed by small member states who want 'their' Commissioner in Brussels. A compromise of one Commissioner per member state to be reduced at a later date (perhaps in 2014) may be suggested. It may also be suggested that larger member states get two commissioners to help broker a deal with Poland and Spain

EU budget - The draft Constitution gives the European Parliament much greater say over the EU purse strings. A sizeable number of member states have since rejected this. A new proposal by the Italian Presidency now gives member states the final say. MEPs are holding fire until they find out what they will get in return.

EU foreign minister While all member states are agreed in principle about an EU foreign minister, disagreement still remains over to what extent the person should be answerable to member states.

Agreement

Meanwhile there has also been agreement on some substantial issues.

European Parliament- While there are still areas where the European Parliament will merely be consulted for its opinion – these will be far less than in the current treaties. In fact, the number of areas where the European Parliament can co-legislate with member states has almost doubled to 70. Qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament have been introduced to areas such as control of borders and asylum and immigration.

National Parliaments - National Parliaments will be more involved with EU legislation-making. Under the new Constitution, the European Commission is required to send them all legislation proposals in advance. National Parliament may then, within six weeks, send a reasoned opinion on whether the legislation complies with the so-called Subsidiarity Principle [the principle that the Union does not take action unless it is more effective than action taken at the national level]. If at least a third think the Commission is breaching the principle, then it will be obliged to review its proposal (but not, in fact, to change it).

Simplified legislation - At the moment EU legislation confuses even those who have been working in and around the institutions for years. The new Constitution aims to tackle this problem by reducing the number of legislative instruments and by calling them more user-friendly names such as European Law, European Framework Law, European Regulation and European Decision.

Exit Clause- For the first time in the Union’s history, there will be an escape clause for countries that want to leave the Union. This reflects the practical difficulties of a growing Union which will eventually have over 30 member states.

Other - The Union shall have a legal personality. The supremacy of Union law over national law is written down for the first time.

Investigation

Violating promises and law, von der Leyen tests patience

Under EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, transparency was supposed to be a "guiding principle". Instead, the European Commission is asking Kafkaesque questions in response to an access to documents request, and failing to meet its legal deadline.

Future of Europe: EU Council urged to propose a chair

Since the German presidency promised the Conference on the Future of Europe would start under their leadership, the European Commission and MEPs hope the event will be launched soon. But there is one issue: who will chair the conference?

Nine-in-ten EU regions face revenue plunge, report finds

The decrease of revenues in 2020 of subnational authorities in France, Germany and Italy alone is estimated to be €30bn for the three countries, a new report by the European Committee of the Regions says.

EU Parliament sticks to demands in budget tussle

The parliament wants €38.5bn extra for key programmes, which is less than their previous request of around €100bn. Negotiations continue on Thursday, but the budget and recovery could still get stuck on the rule-of-law issue.

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

MEPs deliver blow to EU body embroiled in harassment case

MEPs have refused to sign off the accounts of the European Economic and Social Committee, in yet another blow to the reputation of the EU's smallest institution. The massive vote against was linked to ongoing psychological harassment cases.

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Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

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