Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

New treaty outline creates fresh question marks

The German EU presidency has presented a draft treaty compromise that caters for most of the issues raised by problem countries but risks upsetting a larger camp of pro-constitution states that feels the good balance of previous drafts has been lost.

The 16-page document, circulating late on Friday evening, accommodates British, Dutch and Czech "red lines" giving them something to sell to the public at home.

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  • The text is the mandate for the issues that can be re-opened from the rejected EU constitution (Photo: European Council)

Britain, which came to the meeting saying it would walk away from the summit if it did not get its issues agreed, will be able to claim it has won some big concessions, with one diplomat referring to the latest text as the "British mandate."

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which sparked big discussion in the run-up to the summit, is now to have language attached to it that makes it completely clear it will not create new rights for the union or encroach on UK law.

The proposed EU foreign minister will now have the clunkier title of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, while the text in several places makes clear that the EU should not get any more foreign policy powers.

London will also not be obliged to take part in EU cooperation in judicial and police affairs.

Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who could not return to the Hague empty-handed following his country's rejection of the original constitution in 2005, has secured stonger enlargement criteria in the treaty.

The changes make it more difficult for would-be member states to get their applications approved, gives slightly more power to national parliaments over proposed EU legislation and adds a protocol stating that the new treaty does not affect the right of member states to provide services of general interest.

The Czech Republic secured language making the division of power between member states and the union clearer - stating that it is a two-way process - implying that powers can be taken back from the union.

The new text has come under fire from a series of member states who fear that the balance of a German proposal circulated earlier this week has been undone, however. Several of the 18 countries that have ratified the constitution believe too many concessions have been made on the Rights Charter as well as the wording on primacy of EU law not being strong enough.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has also drawn criticism for being too tough on the Poles by threatening to go ahead with intergovernmental treaty talks without them.

Poland has got its longed-for text on energy solidarity as well as a phrase stating that language in the rights charter will not affect national governments' power to legislate in the sphere of "public morality [and] family law."

However, there is stil no language at all on the voting system with EU leaders currently locked in a row about what to do with Poland's demand to adjust the system proposed in the original constitution.

Polish breakthrough?

But diplomatic sources are saying Warsaw will in the end go for an extension of the current Nice treaty voting rules until 2017, as well as a new version of the 1994 "Ioannina Compromise," which allows small minorities of EU states to call for re-examination of EU decisions they do not like.

A summit attendee noted that the talks between Germany and Poland are extremely stilted. Every time Ms Merkel suggests something to president Lech Kaczynski, he leaves the negotiating room to discuss it with his twin brother and prime minister back in Warsaw, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said the source.

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Opinion

EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Viktor Orban of Hungary and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski seem to share the idea that the rights of some may come at the expense of the rights of others, and public institutions should serve the majority, and not all citizens.

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