Friday

24th Feb 2017

British guns blazing as EU summit opens

  • It is going to be an evening of compromise, fudged language and face-saving deals (Photo: Tim M. Hoesmann)

British prime minister Tony Blair walked into the EU summit on Thursday (21 June) saying he must see "significant changes" in the draft EU treaty if there is to be any deal. The Polish president said nothing, amid speculation on the kind of compromise package Warsaw might accept.

"This is going to be a very tough negotiation. We've set out four areas on which we need to see significant change. We have to see that change," Mr Blair said. "Of course we want to see Europe working effectively, but on the four areas we've set out, we need to be satisfied."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"We want a treaty but it has to be the right one," his foreign minister, Margaret Beckett, said.

The British demands are to weaken the mandate of a future EU "foreign minister;" to not give the Charter of Fundamental Rights legal force; to not give away the national veto on justice matters and to not give the "EU" a legal personality.

Speaking earlier at a socialist party congress in Brussels, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "I've received a declaration from Tony Blair. It's a preparation for the British position at the council. I hope this is not the final position," with other EU states seeing the UK's "areas" as potential deal-breakers.

Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer underlined that "to have one person responsible for foreign policy is essential," adding that the EU's human rights-oriented foreign policy could become a laughing stock if the rights charter is stripped of force.

"Think of the American complaint, when they ask 'Who should we phone in Europe, if there is a foreign policy problem?'" the Austrian said. "Imagine us at the next summit with Russia, imagine that typical smile of Putin if Europe has not been able to adopt its own charter."

Polish silence

In contrast to Mr Blair, Polish president Lech Kaczynski strode into the EU headquarters in stony silence.

But at an earlier conservative parties' gathering near the EU capital, Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski faced strong hostility to Warsaw's plans, with Luxemburg's comment that Poland owed much of its EU membership to German support greeted with widespread applause.

Warsaw is pushing the EU to change its proposed new "double majority" voting system. The Poles want votes weighted in accordance to the square roots of populations, in a system said to be more democratic but also giving Poland more leverage against Germany.

Except the Czech Republic, none of the 26 other EU states sympathise with Poland's idea. On the eve of the summit, Prague also stated it would not back a Polish veto on the basis of the square root, with speculation growing in Brussels on what Poland might take home instead.

EU diplomats say the compromise package could involve more seats for Poland in the European Parliament and a stronger treaty clause on energy solidarity, with the new "double majority" voting system to kick in only after 2014.

A Czech idea to accommodate the Poles even further - by means of a "minority veto" giving Warsaw more blocking powers - is seen as more problematic, as it would break open the draft new treaty's intricate institutional balance.

Another potential troublemaker, the Netherlands' prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, said The Hague still had some "wishes."

Mr Balkenende is seen as being basically satisfied with the German treaty proposal, but is keen to impress on the home front by getting a stronger role for national parliaments and a clear mention of EU enlargement criteria in the new treaty text.

Too close to call

The summit has been billed by Germany as a historic make-or-break moment, with Mr Steinmeier saying "We cannot, I repeat we cannot fail. If we do fail to reform, to restructure the treaty, we would lose a whole era of European integration. We would induce a process of polarising the EU."

But appraising the chances of success, Brussels veteran and Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker gave the summit just a "50/50" chance, saying the British and Polish problems are "equally tough."

Commenting on potential face-saving deals for Warsaw, Danish leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "That's what it's like when people have crawled very high up in a tree, then they sometimes need help to get down with ladders and ropes and other instruments."

European Commission leader Jose Manuel Barroso was more gloomy. "Despite all our best efforts, it seems not all of our partners are ready for a real negotiation," he said, without naming names.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

Le Pen used 'fake' EU parliament jobs

A leaked EU anti-fraud office report says French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, had her bodyguard and personal assistant paid by the EU parliament for jobs they did not do.

MEPs look for ways to defund far-right party

The Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) has sued the European Parliament for changing its party funding rules last year. Meanwhile, MEPs probe their duty to fund a party that brings together people with neo-Nazi and fascist past.

EU commission drops anti-corruption report

Transparency campaigners are livid after the EU commission scuppered plans to publish an EU anti-corruption report amid unfolding corruption scandals in Romania and France.

News in Brief

  1. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  2. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  3. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions
  4. Irish PM expected to quit amid police scandal
  5. After Brexit vote, 100,000 UK firms registered in Ireland
  6. Bayrou to support Macron in French presidential election
  7. British by-election tests Ukip strength after Brexit
  8. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  2. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  3. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  4. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  5. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  7. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  8. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  10. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  11. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  12. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year

Latest News

  1. Don't blame Trump for Europe's insecurity
  2. EU rules out post-Brexit 'hard border' with Northern Ireland
  3. Fewer EU pupils being taught two foreign languages
  4. Women and child refugees face abuse in French camp
  5. Russian military creates 'information force'
  6. Spain MPs to probe €60bn bank bailouts
  7. Crowded race to win EU medicines agency
  8. Fighting environmental injustice in Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  2. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  3. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  4. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  5. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  6. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  7. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  8. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  10. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  11. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics