Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Opinion

Nobody wants to create another EU crisis

  • "Many governments recognise that communication is definitely one of the challenges of the future" (Photo: European Commission)

Next week, the Heads of States and Governments, the Commission and Parliament representatives will meet in Lisbon. The Presidency aims to reach agreement on the Reform Treaty so that the text could be signed by the end of the year. Since the opening of the Inter-governmental Conference, a group of legal advisors from all the Member States and the European Institutions met over 20 times.

Their task was, in principle, simple. Taking care not to go beyond the mandate agreed in June, they should translate the political agreement into legal text. A large number of technical questions were solved and the draft treaty is accessible on the web site of the Presidency.

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As usual, some of the technical question proved to be more controversial than others. For instance, the question raised by the UK, whether the Court of Justice is competent for existing so-called third pillar texts (such as the European Arrest warrant or the Europol Convention) was solved only at the last meeting.

Balanced and fair text

Finding a solution for the special UK status on measures relating to the Schengen acquis, was equally difficult. Probably some will consider that the IGC has further increased the complexity of the Treaties, especially in the area related to Justice, Freedom and Security. We would have preferred not to see so many exceptions and opt-outs in the new Treaty, especially not in a policy area that all our citizens consider crucial for the future of the EU.

But if the alternative is watering down the rules applying to all or making the text meaningless, it is still preferable to allow for a certain flexibility. That's why I think that, overall, the result of the legal work is balanced and fair.

What should we now expect from the European Council? Most likely, some Member States will raise a few issues that fall outside the mandate agreed in June, or that flow from a different interpretation of that mandate. The Polish government will seek to obtain a higher status for the declaration of Ioannina.

Despite the very pro-European stance of its population, Poland considers it still preferable to have this decision delaying mechanism written into the treaty, rather than as a political statement. But the strength of European integration is not about blocking decisions; it is about contributing to the decision-making process by giving a constructive contribution.

Bulgaria may raise the issue of how the word "Euro" will be written in Bulgarian in the Treaty and in the future bank notes, once this country will be able to adopt the common currency. Austria will attempt to address the difficulties it encounters with the admission of students from other Member States, which is one of the fundamental principles of the EC law.

And the European Parliament will seek assurance that the appointment of the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (should he or she be nominated before the European elections and the appointment of the new Commission) will not take place without Parliament having its say. All these requests will be flagged at the General Affairs Council next Monday. But I do not expect them to be cleared off the table until the European Council on 18-19 October.

Strong commitment

Many governments recognise that communication is definitely one of the challenges of the future and that the national governments and the Institutions should effectively work together on that, including by investing time and resources. Otherwise, the European integration will be a project only for the élites and a large part of citizens will feel detached from what happens at the EU level. I am hoping for a strong commitment from the Member States and the European Institutions to engage with citizens to inform, listen and debate. Ideally that would be part of the decision at the end of next week.

Solving these outstanding issues will require a careful negotiation by the Presidency. It should not, however, prevent it from finding a solution, which could be accepted by all. The Presidency can count on broad support. My impression is that nobody really wants to postpone the decision or create another crisis. A good deal on the Reform Treaty is necessary and urgent. Of course, much will depend also on the decision concerning the composition of Parliament.

While the report adopted by Parliament is not - legally speaking - part of the Reform Treaty, politically there is a link. But the Lamassoure-Severin report is not uncontroversial and therefore risks complicating the work of the Presidency. This could open two scenarios: the Presidency could propose to postpone the decision on the EP composition until later, maybe December, or could seize this opportunity to adapt the attribution of seats proposed by Parliament in order to secure the support by some Member States (a delicate exercise, however, since the EP shall give its consent on the composition of the Assembly following the Council's decision).

We should not forget that the new Treaty will have to go through 27 different ratification procedures. Most Member States will probably decide to ratify the Treaty via their national parliaments. My hope is that the ratification procedures will take place smoothly so as to enable the new Treaty to enter into force in good time before the 2009 European elections.

But for this to become a reality, and also in order to stimulate a debate at European level, I would like to see a degree of coordination among the Member States. It would be possible, and in my view desirable, for national parliaments - at least for some - to launch the ratification procedures around the same times next Spring. I believe this would strengthen awareness of European issues and interest and promote a true European debate on how the new Treaty will help address the common challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

The author is European Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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