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17th Feb 2019

EU treaty ratification may be difficult, experts say

  • Much will depend on which country is first to ratify the new treaty, believe experts (Photo: EUobserver)

Even if the EU manages to avoid referendums on its new Reform Treaty, ratification of the text may prove less easy than has been assumed so far, a Brussels think tank has warned.

A paper by the European Policy Centre released on Thursday (26 July) highlights "hurdles and traps" in member states' ratification of the reform treaty, which the Portuguese EU presidency hopes to get signed by EU leaders before the end of the year.

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France, which rejected the original EU constitution in a referendum in 2005, has this time opted for treaty ratification via the parliament.

But Mr Sarkozy may run into "unexpected problems" according to the EPC paper.

Before it can ratify the reform treaty, Paris will first have to make changes to its own national constitution because it still contains direct references to the old EU constitutional treaty.

These references were agreed by French deputies in 2004, in the expectation that the EU constitution would soon come into force - before French voters said "no" to the treaty.

"It is true that the constitution should be changed," said a French official, adding that "this process should take place quickly during 2008."

But in order to have the French constitution amended, Mr Sarkozy needs a three-fifths majority in the French 'Congress' - a body combining the country's national assembly and the senate.

For this he depends on the support of the opposition socialists.

"The socialist are in a very difficult situation right now. They could use this opportunity to take revenge at Sarkozy and negotiate to the maximum," said Philippe Moreau Defarges, a senior analyst at the French Institute for International relations (IFRI).

Mr Defarges indicated that it is unlikely that the socialists will actually block the constitutional changes, but added that the party's internal disarray makes its behaviour unpredictable.

Once the constitutional hurdle in France is cleared, parliamentary ratification of the EU treaty is set to be relatively easy, as for this move Mr Sarkozy would only need a simple majority of UMP deputies, who dominate in the assembly.

Obstacles on the road

Other governments in the EU, however, do need a three-fifths or two-thirds parliamentary majority to have the treaty ratified, the EPC paper points out.

In Austria and Finland there are "no signs" that a two-thirds majority will pose a problem, but Poland and the Czech Republic may prove more problematic, the paper notes.

Warsaw still needs to indicate what parliamentary procedure it wants to follow, but opposition support in parliament may prove crucial to pass a two-thirds threshold, with a eurosceptic party in Poland's ruling coalition recently saying it could vote against the treaty.

In the Czech Republic, opposition support may also be necessary for a three-fifth majority.

An even bigger problem could be posed by possible referendums down the line, the think-tank argues. So far, only Ireland has officially announced that it will call a referendum, but other member states are facing pressure to do the same, including the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Denmark, Spain and Luxembourg.

"Much could depend on which country is first to ratify the new treaty - and whether any other member state apart from Ireland decides to call a referendum at an early stage in the process," according to the report.

"If that happens it will be increasingly difficult for those governments which find themselves in the 'grey area' to avoid having one."

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