Tuesday

10th Dec 2019

MEPs want 'convention' on EU treaty

  • The EU parliament is set to be involved in any treaty change (Photo: European Parliament)

The corridors of the European Parliament are alive with talk of possible EU treaty change, a multi-tentacled process that once opened is difficult to keep a lid on.

Germany and France are next week expected to table proposals to tighten economic governance rules that would involve overhauling part of the EU treaty.

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Leaders of the parliament's political groups discussed the issue on Wednesday morning (30 November) and were broadly agreed they want full involvement in the process if it should come to pass.

"Most MEPs think this [treaty change] would be a distraction but at the same time behind the doors, everybody is starting to prepare themselves to be a in a situation where the European Council at the next summit [8 and 9 December] opens the way to the reform of the treaty," said one parliamentary insider, privy to the meeting.

"The next two questions would be do we want a convention - the answer is of course yes because these reforms mean giving more power to the EU - while the second question is on the length of time it will take."

Under EU rules, a convention, requiring input from MEPs, their national counterparts, the commission and member states should be called if the treaty change involves devolving further power to the EU level.

The parliament could in theory opt to let member states go ahead with treaty change without MEPs' involvement but this is considered unlikely to happen.

"In my opinion there will be a convention," said Green German MEP Gerald Haefner.

The big issue is whether the treaty change can be as surgical and precise as Berlin has repeatedly said it wants.

Length and scope

While a time limit is seen as possible, limiting the scope of discussions is more difficult.

"We need to limit it to what is at stake. But the idea of having the precise wording and a convention that just says Yes will not work," said Haefner.

Liberal UK MEP Andrew Duff points out that to "install a proper economic government" a series of changes need to be made to the treaty, including increasing the powers of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

"These things often have a dynamic of their own," said Duff, with countries wont to using the occasion to table pet likes or hates.

The UK, for example, is already thought to have agreed to treaty change allowing closer fiscal union among eurozone countries in return for a deal on limiting the application in Britain of an EU law governing working hours.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own CDU party, the Polish foreign minister and the Finnish Europe minister have suggested political changes such as direct election of the commission president or combining that post with the post of President of the European Council.

Roberto Gualtieri, a Socialist Italian MEP, said that treaty change is "legally not necessary, economically ineffective and politically dangerous" but concedes that this does not mean it is not going to happen anyway.

The German chancellor, for her part, has indicated that eurozone countries will break away and forge an intergovernmental agreement if treaty change with all 27 member states proves too difficult.

This is seen as the worst option of all by MEPs.

"If we do everything outside the treaties, there will be a lack of legitimacy. Many people have the feeling that huge decisions are being taken and they have never been asked. There are lots of good reasons for doing it properly with a convention," said Haefner.

Gualtieri characterised the intergovermental option, with no outside institutions to enforce the rules, as "absurd" said it would be "destroyed" by the markets, with his party and the centre-right EPP keen to push for solutions from within the current treaty.

EU treaty change should be limited, says parliament president

Amid general weariness about the thought of changing the EU treaty once more, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has suggested an open-and-shut scenario where any tweaking be kept to the area of economic governance.

Spectre of fresh EU treaty returns to haunt ‘incomplete’ Europe

So exhausted were they by the struggle by the time the soap opera ended, European leaders then swore it would be very long indeed, perhaps a generation, before the EU treaties would be opened again. But now, in the last few days, as Europe’s economy and the single currency stand on the precipice, these same leaders have begun to eat their words.

Signs of backtracking on EU treaty change

Barely a week has passed since EU leaders agreed to tweak the Lisbon Treaty, but already there are signs that a number of governments are getting cold feet.

Legal gymnastics cause confusion in Brussels

Eleventh hour legal gymnastics designed to allow tightened economic governance in the eurozone without the need for a laborious treaty change have set Brussels tongues wagging over the political and legal ramifications of the move.

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