Tuesday

23rd Apr 2019

EU leaders scrape treaty deal at 11th hour

After a marathon round of talks, the EU has finally agreed the outline of a new treaty for the bloc with formal intergovernmental negotiations to start on 23 July.

At around 05:00 local time on Saturday morning - following a full day and a half of tense discussion - a triumphant Angela Merkel, German chancellor, announced to press that a deal had been struck and that Europe would be able to move out the "reflection" phase it has been in since the draft EU constitution was rejected two years ago.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Under the plans, member states will use the mandate agreed at the summit as the basis for negotiations on a new treaty, which is to be done and dusted by the end of the year and ratified in all member states by mid-2009, ahead of the next European elections.

At this time, the EU will get a new foreign minister - or High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as its now less-than-snappy title goes - and a permanent president as two of the most visible innovations click into place.

The negotiating base reflects the stringent political criteria EU leaders set themselves: it needs to produce a document that feels different to the constitution that was rejected two years ago in France and the Netherlands, but keeps the subtance of the original text already ratified by 18 countries. It also has to be a text that leaders can sell at home as being not worth putting to a referendum.

The result, full of compromises, opt-out opportunities and special texts for certain countries, is not going to give rise to a treaty that wins any beauty contests: easier-to-grasp names such as EU "laws" have been dropped in order to maintain the current "regulations" and "directives" seen as less symbolic of statehood; the flag, anthem, motto and name "constitution" fell by way of the same argument.

"Maybe it was not the most beautiful lyrics we have adopted," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, but it is "effcient prose," with the resulting "Reform Treaty" to be attached to two current treaties.

Voting compromise

The headline-stealing issue of the summit was whether to change the EU voting system as demanded by Poland. Germany was steadfastly against the idea, believing the propsed double majority, population-oriented system is just and democratic.

In the end, after threats of launching treaty talks without Polish approval, they finally agreed that the current Nice treaty voting system continues until 2014.

From 2014-2017, a transistion phase kicks in where the new system - based on 55 percent member states and 65 percent population - applies, but the original sysyem under Nice can still be used to take decisions if a member state thinks it necessary. After 2017, only the new system applies. An easier threshold to delay a decision also kicks into place from 2014.

"The one who wins in these kinds of situations is the one with the strongest nerves," said Polish president Lech Kaczynski after the talks.

Elsewhere, the UK secured weaker language on foreign policy, made sure it could opt out of taking part in EU cooperation on police and judicial matters and secured what diplomats say is a "de facto" opt-out of a charter setting out the civil, social and economic rights of citizens.

The other two problem countries were the Netherlands, who managed to get national parliaments a greater say over proposed EU legislation as well as tougher criteria language on future would-be member states, and the Czech Republic which fought for, and got, language on clearer division of competencies between the EU and member states.

Meanwhile, France managed to get the phrase "undistorted competition" removed from being one of the objectives of the EU, with French voters thought largely to have voted against the constitution in May 2005 out of a fear that it would open the door to Anglo Saxon neo-liberalism.

Chopped and sliced though the old constitution is, "much of the substance has been maintained" according to chancellor Merkel.

Now EU leaders will return home to sell the result for domestic consumption, with next month's intergovernmental negotiations (IGC) to be stuff for technocrats and lower-level diplomats to deal with.

The next big issue, once the treaty is finally agreed, will be ratification and referendums. Both Denmark and Ireland are the two member states legally obliged to have referendums if their sovereignty is affected - the rest are likely to try to ratify via their national parliaments only.

Lobby register transparency talks collapse

Efforts to set up a better transparency register for lobbyists have collapsed after two years of talks. The impasse revolves around the European Commission's insistence that the register also become mandatory for the European Parliament and Council.

Exclusive

EU bodies dodge questions on secret VW loan report

The European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have refused to answer detailed questions about the demand from the European Ombudsman to publish an Olaf report on a €400m EIB loan Volkswagen Group (VW) received through deception.

Exclusive

EIB 'maladministration' verdict over VW fraud report

EUobserver should have been granted access to a fraud investigation into a €400m EU loan to Volkswagen Group (VW), and recommendations on how to avoid future misuse, the European Ombudsman has concluded.

MEPs excluded from deciding new EU labour agency HQ

A ministerial vote will determine the seat of the new European Labour Authority - leaving MEPs excluded from the selection process. Infamously, the new HQs for the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority were only decided by drawing lots.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us