Thursday

8th Dec 2016

Germany gives ear to Poland in 'Reform Treaty' talks

Germany has made a concession towards Poland by mentioning Warsaw's wish to have a debate on the voting system in its latest treaty proposal paper – a document that officials spent five hours discussing on Tuesday evening.

On the eve on the EU leaders gathering in Brussels, the German presidency circulated an 11-page document saying the bloc aims at establishing a "Reform Treaty," which would consist of the amended Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community.

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  • The voting issue is mentioned in a footnote in the latest paper (Photo: European Council)

According to sources present at the talks, while there is "general consensus" among member states that the reform package will avoid state-like terminology such as the "constitution" and "foreign minister," strong differences remain on the treaty's substance.

The meeting of the 27 teams of sherpas - EU member state negotiators – showed there are still divisions in six areas - the Charter of Fundamental Rights, primacy of EU law over national law, the transfer of power between the EU and member states, common foreign and security policy, the role of the national parliaments and the voting system.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, listing citizens' social and civil rights, prompted the hottest debate last night, with strong arguments flying from both camps. The German Presidency has suggested there should be only a reference to the charter in the new reform package, but the UK continues to oppose it becoming a legally binding document.

Similarly, Berlin has suggested dropping from the treaty the controversial line stating that EU law has primacy over national laws, and instead putting it in a separate declaration, which would accompany the treaty. But some EU capitals are not yet ready to accept the watered-down compromise.

Meanwhile, national parliaments are likely to secure a bigger say when it comes to legislation put forward by the European Commission. Under the German compromise proposal, the EU's executive body would be more bound to deal with the concerns of assemblies, if one third of them disagree.

Another controversial issue is the balance of power between the EU and its member states. The Czech Republic is demanding a "closed" or explicit list of the so-called shared competencies and that there be a strengthening of the "two-way flexible approach," allowing the transfer of power both ways.

In addition, the UK indicated it wants to extend its opt-in mechanism to the entire area of freedom, security and justice, which would give London the possibility not to participate in any fields such as immigration, asylum, police or judicial cooperation.

The UK is also fighting for changes to the provisions on common foreign and security policy.

Voting system

Having caused deep anger in Poland by not mentioning the voting system as a point of discussion in its recent treaty paper, circulated at the end of last week, Germany has now made a concession.

In a footnote, it mentions that two delegations are prepared to open this issue during the upcoming high level talks.

The paper does not name the two capitals – although it is an apparent reference to Polish and Czech demands to abandon the double majority system in the original EU constitution and instead introduce a mechanism favouring medium and small-size states.

According to sources, the wording does not change the fact that there is no will on the side of the German presidency or the rest of the club to open up what is seen as a Pandora Box by entering the tricky area of vote distribution.

However, the German voting move appears to have prompted a softening in Warsaw's stance, as well.

Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Germany's Bild newspaper that Poland's wish for a voting system based on the square root of populations does not have to mean a stalemate in the discussions.

"At the moment we just want a debate on the voting system to be accepted," he said.

Meanwhile, Polish negotiators on Tuesday night indicated that they are also open to other voting systems and not just the square root based models so long as the democratic principle behind the square root idea is upheld.

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