Tuesday

21st Nov 2017

Voting and veto issues to dominate EU constitution discussions

  • Angela Merkel - Has she got what it takes to bash EU heads together in June? (Photo: EUobserver)

The voting system and where member states should have a right to a veto are shaping up to be the two biggest issues at the treaty summit next month in Brussels with diplomats already gearing themselves up for a long meeting.

The German EU presidency has finished the technical consultations with member state officials - a last gathering of all of these technocrats will occur next week on Wednesday - and is now expected to enter the political phase.

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According to diplomats close to the talks, member states are heading towards a "consensus" to abandon the idea of substituting all the previous treaties by one constitutional treaty.

Instead the draft constitution, rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, will take the form of an amendment to current treaties.

Discussions are ongoing about attaching part one of the constitutional treaty containing the institutional innovations to the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht and attaching part three containing the policies of the EU to the original 1957 Treaty of Rome.

Getting as much cleared as possible at the June summit

According to one diplomat, Germany, using its political weight as a large country as well as holding the current presidency of the EU, will try to get as much of the political issues cleared up at the 21-22 June summit so that the following intergovernmental conference on the treaty "is as technical as possible."

This stance has led diplomats in Brussels to assume that the summit is going to be long and contentious, with some looking back to the Nice Treaty summit, a bad-tempered political bout that lasted several days.

"There is talk of a lengthy council ... I have noticed it creeping into the language of other diplomats," one EU diplomat remarked.

This talk reflects the list of controversial points that need to be agreed - including two fundamental issues on voting weights among member states and the extension of qualified majority voting.

For Germany, the voting system contained in the draft constitution is something not to be touched. "Whoever touches this [issue] has to know that he will not reach a compromise," state secretary Georg Boomgaarden said on Thursday in the Netherlands.

But Berlin still has to reckon with an increasingly tough-talking Poland.

Sticking points

Speaking to French daily Le Monde, Polish prime minister Lech Kaczynski said "we will not accept the voting system proposed in the current project. For Poland this is a crucial question."

The current Nice Treaty is extremely favourable to Warsaw in terms of voting weights, a privilege it loses under the draft constitution where a re-jigged voting system takes into account population size, making it much more favourable to Germany.

Britain's wish to cut down the amount of areas that can be agreed by qualified majority voting is another brewing, and potentially even tougher, fight.

The draft constitution, already largely ratified by 18 member states, extends the rights of the parliament to co-legislate, thus reducing the right of veto, in 49 new areas - mainly in freedom, security and justice.

London is looking to claw some of this back to make the treaty an easier sell to a sceptical public and largely anti-Europe press.

But this is strongly opposed in several countries, including Spain and Italy, while Paris has also signalled it will not compromise on this topic.

Alain Lamassoure, an advisor to French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy told the EUobserver that while the "UK might be tempted to revisit the list of issues that should be decided by qualified majority vote rather than unanimity (...) for the rest of member states this is not negotiable."

Other sticking points include the Charter of Fundamental Rights with member states bickering over how to incorporate it into the treaty. Currently it is in there as a whole, but some capitals are pushing for it to be referred to only in one article which says that it will only be applicable to EU law and giving member states the right to adapt it to their own traditions and legislation.

Enlargement is another controversial factor. While enlargement criteria are likely to make it into the treaty, sources are already predicting a quarrel over whether the EU's own capacity to take on new member states should be put into the treaty.

Meanwhile, the German presidency is already working on additional protocols on climate change, social Europe and energy solidarity.

Remarking on the difficulties facing chancellor Merkel to balance the wishes of those already having ratified and the nine countries that have not, one diplomat noted that she has a "big stick" to beat member states with - that they all signed up to the contents of the constitution in 2004.

"It's a very dangerous tactic" to sign up to something at heads of state and government level and then try and "wiggle" out of it, said an official adding "especially when there is a big presidency in town."

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