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5th Mar 2024

Delors critical of treaty on eve of enforcement

One of the most respected political figures during the European Union's 50-year history, Jacques Delors, has voiced his disappointment at the Lisbon Treaty's limitations, less than 24 hours before the new set of rules comes into force.

The Frenchman – president of the European Commission during a ten-year period noted for the institution's proactive spirit (1985-95) – told journalists in Brussels on Monday (30 November) that the new treaty was little more than a step in the right direction.

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  • Mr Delors reigned over the commission for ten years (Photo: Wikipedia)

And he added that his support for the document comes "more out of principle rather than real enthusiasm", laying the blame on the shoulders of European citizens who are out of touch with what is important for Europe.

"If the European population want to leave a EU for their grandchildren that will be relatively well-off but without real influence on the world stage, that's their responsibility," Mr Delors said at a talk in the European Economic and Social Committee.

Dutch and French citizens rejected a further-reaching Constitutional Treaty for Europe in 2005. However, the Lisbon Treaty, negotiating the aftermath of the rejections, contains many of the provisions listed in the earlier document.

On the question of the recent election of a permanent president of the European Council, a post created under the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Delors was adamant that European politicians had made the correct decision in choosing Herman Van Rompuy, until recently prime minister of Belgium.

The role of the new president was clearly to be that of a chairman, aiming to speed up the decision-making process of EU leaders but not acting in a executive manner on the world state similar to the president of the United States, he said.

"Choosing a candidate who would act like an executive would have caused so much tension that after six months everything would have become paralyzed. They made the correct choice," Mr Delors told journalists.

New Commission

Independently on Monday, MEPs stressed the need for the new council president to work together with the holders on the EU's other top posts in order for Europe to successfully overcome its main challenges.

Other senior positions include the European parliament's president, the commission president and the new high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, whose job starts on 1 December together with the Lisbon Treaty that created the post.

"Those G4 are going to have to come to a level of understanding and co-operation that hasn't been achieved before," said UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff.

The legislature is currently preparing for parliamentary hearings of the incoming commissioners, set to take place between 11-19 January. A special plenary session is envisaged for the 26 January to finalise the process.

Ms Ashton, who in her new capacity will also be a vice-president of the commission, and the other commissioners-designate, have already been sent a questionnaire from MEPs who are keen to find more information on the candidates.

The European deputies are looking to make sure that the future holders of the powerful executive posts are capable, independent and also committed to the European project.

The hearings will last three hours and will be conducted by the parliamentary committee(s) related to the subject.

The last decade has seen a substantial increase in the parliament's powers regarding the approval of new commissions, with the Italian government forced to submit a new candidate in 2004 following parliamentary resistance.

But Mr Duff also indicated that this time round the institution may raise questions regarding the shape of the portfolios put forward by commission president Jose Manuel Barroso last Friday. A number of briefs such as climate change are to be ‘horizontal' in nature, cutting across several other areas.

Mr Barroso's announcement of the portfolios was surrounded by rumours of late night telephone calls between the Portuguese politician and EU leaders, keen to get as strong a post as possible.

Le Monde reported over the weekend triumphant comments made by French president Nicolas Sarkozy about ‘out-manoeuvring' the UK to take the internal market portofolio, complete with financial services.

Asked on Monday whether this member state pressure was appropriate, Mr Delors said it was far from ideal. "I would never have accepted that member states gave me orders. And I'm not sure Barroso did either," he said.

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