22nd Apr 2019

Convention split on powers for future EU

It was a much smaller and more informal Convention group that met for an extra plenary session on Wednesday. But although the atmosphere was quite different under the amusing chairmanship of Convention vice-president Guiliano Amato, the split among delegates remained quite serious.

The division was about powers of the Union in a future EU. Wednesday’s discussion – begun last week - covered draft Articles 8-16 on Union versus member state competences in the constitutional treaty.

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The meeting started on an awkward note with Peter Hain, UK government representative, appearing to call into question one of the fundamental premises of the Union – that of the primacy of Union law over national law.

Selling to the public

Following an impassioned plea by Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, Mr Hain declared himself "won over" on the issue. However, it was one of several points in an intense but good-natured discussion which led to fears by some delegates that less there would be a "retrograde step" – the Union would end up with less powers than it currently has.

Both Mr Hain and Irish government representative Bobby McDonagh made references to their public back home, who will eventually have to ratify a treaty.

"If we get this wrong…." said Mr Hain alluding to the consequences while Mr McDonagh called for a change in the wording of the primacy of law article (9) to make it more palatable for Irish citizens, who in 2001 rejected the Nice Treaty in a referendum.

Politicising the constitution

This led to a debate about to what extent the constitution should or could be politicised. Many representatives focussed on the term "national identities" – attractive to citizens but hard to define.

"This is no place for taking in account the sensitivity of public opinion," said Green MEP Johannes Voggenhuber, while Jean-Luc Deheane, also a Convention vice-president said, "In some member states, they are afraid to say what the Union is." If you do not dare to say that EU law has primacy over national law, what do you say to your people, he queried.

But most of the debate in the afternoon focussed on competences – and, as Mr Amato put it, "raised more problems than solutions." Delegates were not only unable to agrees on the names of competences (exclusive, shared and supporting), they could not agree on what areas belonged in which categories and whether these categories should be exhaustive or flexible.

There was a big discussion over whether the union should be able to co-ordinate the economic policies of member states, as stated in article 10.

Power doesn’t come from God or Prodi

But in some areas, there was the sought-after consensus. Clinging to these Mr Amato said that delegates had agreed that the powers of the Union come from member states and not "from God or Prodi [the commission president]."

Also, Convention members agreed that the principle of coherence and integration should be inserted into the Treaty (ie when making a law, other Union goals such as environmental goals should not be forgotten.)

The discussion on articles 8-16 is "over for now" said Mr Amato who did not exclude that delegates could come back to it. The Convention's presidium will now look at the arguments put forward and make amendments to the articles.

The Convention’s next plenary session is on 17-18 March.

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