5th Dec 2021

'Irresponsible' and 'insulting' - Reding and France in fresh row

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has opened a new front with Paris after her month-long row over Roma expulsions, brandishing as "irresponsible" a Franco-German plan to change the EU treaty in remarks quickly dubbed an "insult" by Paris.

"To come up with chimeras about new treaties looks absolutely irresponsible to me," Ms Reding told German daily Die Welt in an interview on Tuesday (26 October), referring to a deal on EU financial regulation made by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel in the French town of Deauville last week.

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"European decisions are not taken in Deauville, also not by two members alone. They are taken in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg by 27 member states, based on a solid proposal which is in the interest of all 500 million citizens," Ms Reding said.

The Franco-German pact envisages amending the EU treaty in order to create a permanent EU bailout fund in a way which complies with the German constitution. Germany and Belgium, the EU chair, have said the change concerns adding a few line to the EU document when Croatia joins the Union, rather than opening up the whole treaty for fresh debate.

Ms Reding for her part pointed to the 10-year-long battle among EU countries to finally secure the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force last December and which, according to the Luxembourgish commissioner, already "has enough elements to secure rescue mechanisms."

France quickly reacted to Ms Reding's interview and accused her of "insulting" Paris.

"The terms this European commissioner uses to denigrate the Franco-German proposals are unacceptable and of the same tenor as the insulting language, which I will not forget, used against France during the controversy that she herself fuelled over the Roma," France's EU affairs minister Pierre Lellouche said during a debate in the Senate.

Ms Reding in September compared French deportations of Roma to Nazi-era persecutions, incensing Mr Lellouche and Mr Sarkozy.

Ms Reding is not alone in her criticism of the Deauville accord, however.

Economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn also warned EU leaders congregating on Thursday and Friday in Brussels against giving into the temptation of a treaty change.

The Finnish commissioner said he would "by far prefer" that national leaders avoid this move and pointed to the "moral hazard" of rendering permanent a temporary rescue mechanism established for euro-countries, which expires in 2012. By that, he means that states would not have the proper incentives to observe the strict deficit rules of the euro-zone, since they could always tap the common rescue fund.

Mr Rehn also came out strongly against German calls to suspend voting rights for repeat offenders, saying "my personal view as a committed European" is that such a move "is not necessarily in line with the idea of an ever-closer union."

The European Parliament, which also has a say in economic policy of the Union, is equally wary of the Franco-German proposal.

"I'm very sure that the Deauville deal is not the end of the story," said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the parliament's Liberal Democrats. "It's only the beginning."

To smaller member states, the idea of a Franco-German 'diktat' is highly unpalatable. Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn on Monday said the deal "leaves a bad taste," not only because Berlin and Paris appear to be dictating EU requirements, but because "there is a risk that we will be plunged back into months and years of navel-gazing."

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