Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

MEPs lukewarm on special powers for eurozone deputies

  • Critics say the idea of euro-zone division of MEPs is a 'pandoras box' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

An idea to create special arrangements within the European Parliament for deputies from eurozone countries is gaining traction but there is confusion over whether it can work in practice.

The aim is for eurozone MEPs alone to be able to discuss issues affecting the single currency area - reflecting wider moves to strengthen the economic and political integration of the soon-to-be-18 member region.

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A Franco-German paper published last week was the latest to mention the concept. It spoke of "dedicated structures specific to the euro area to be set up within the European Parliament" after the 2014 elections.

But the idea is highly complex both legally and politically. It is similar to the UK's so-called 'West Lothian' question - first raised 25 years ago and an increasingly hot topic today. That concerns the extent to which Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish deputies should be able to vote on issues only affecting England.

The European Parliament's own West Lothian question was raised about two years ago about the time when EU leaders started to earnestly think about the institutional future of the single currency, including eurozone bailout funds and eventually a eurozone budget.

Political leaders in the parliament suggested setting up sub-committees to deal with eurozone issues. But since then discussions have stalled.

"The problem is that when you look at the rules of the treaty, it is immensely difficult to put such a concept in place," said centre-right Polish MEP Rafal Trzaskowski.

"Because we have all equal rights. We represent citizens not member states. It would be quite difficult to organize it in a way that would not breach the treaty."

According to Trzaskowski, who has been involved in discussions on the issue, one idea would be to have some sort of gentleman’s agreement under which the political parties concerned would agree amongst themselves to send only euro and would-be euro member deputies to a sub committee.

Another option, said Trzaskowski, could be to have the three biggest parties give key posts and reports only to euro member states.

There is also the broader question of what is purely a eurozone issue.

"It's one union and one financial market. The problems of the banks are not just issues of the eurozone," said Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, also a Polish MEP.

UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff points to the financial transaction tax (FTT), supported by 11 eurozone states but potentially affecting all 27 member states.

"The discussion over the FTT is a very good example of this. All member states are seriously involved in that concept. They all have a stake."

He also raises a purely organisational objection. "If you decide to divide the present responsibilities of the economic and monetary committee then you’re risking incoherence and inconsistency. And we’ve got quite enough of that already."

In addition to blurred boundaries between euro and non-euro issues, Polish and other MEPs reject the idea on principle. Of the all the eurozone outs, only the UK and Denmark have an opt-out from joining the single currency. It was part of EU membership negotiations for the rest. So why, goes the argument, should they be excluded from discussions on issues that will eventually affect them.

Saryusz-Wolski said he and other eventual eurozone member MEPs will oppose creating "two tiers of MEPs" within the parliament and, if necessary, before the European court of justice.

Treaty change

When it comes to the practicalities, the parliament is entitled to set up a sub-committee on eurozone issues. But separate legislating and voting in plenary is a different matter.

"That is completely different," said Duff. It would require a treaty change.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King's College London, suggested that the "very last thing (French President) Francois Hollande could possible want is a treaty change. Because he will come under such pressure to have a referendum."

He also believes that there will be no concrete change within the European Parliament until eurozone integration is greatly increased, something that could still be far down the road.

"I suspect the policy will precede the institution. If they ever manage to agree a eurozone budget, then the case for different structures within the parliament for eurozone countries becomes immeasurably stronger."

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