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.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Thursday (4 November) said the political deal struck at last week's summit was not the final word on the matter.

"A potential change to the Lisbon Treaty must be justified 100 percent and must not serve the interests of just one, two or five EU nations, because such a change would simply not be accepted," Mr Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.

"A deal reached in Brussels isn't enough. The member states must then go on to accept it," he added.

Standing beside the Polish prime minister, visiting Czech counterpart Petr Necas said his country's rules for approving an EU treaty change were "very complicated," with any such move requiring a referendum.

Many had hoped such a public consultation could be avoided.

In agreeing to German demands for an EU treaty change last week, EU leaders invoked the Lisbon treaty's "special revision procedure" - a new clause which allows them to tweak the EU rulebook without consulting citizens or the European Parliament, provided there is unanimity and EU powers are not extended.

Germany has pressed hard for the treaty change, concerned that the creation of a permanent EU crisis mechanism could be in breach of the EU's no-bailout clause, meaning Berlin would likely face a challenge from Germany's constitutional court.

At the same time, Berlin has also been a leading advocate of a permanent crisis mechanism to replace the hastily cobbled together 750 billion backstop mechanism agreed in May which expires in 2013, arguing that it must also incorporate a sovereign debt restructuring procedure so that the private sector also foots part of the bill of future bailouts.

On Thursday European Central Bank President Jean Claude Trichet repeated his warnings that such a mechanism would serve to unsettle markets, as Irish, Greek and Portuguese bonds continued their slump following German Chancellor Angela Merkel's raising of issue last week.

A bilateral deal in which Ms Merkel earlier won French President Nicolas Sarkozy's support for the EU treaty change has also attracted widespread criticism.

Referring to a meeting between the two leaders in the French seaside town of Deauville on 18 October, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said the other EU member states had been excluded from the real decision making.

"Pre-cooked decisions put on the table to be taken or left by others is not acceptable for other countries like Italy and other big players," Mr Frattini said in an interview with the Financial Times. "We can have consultations but not pre-cooked decisions taken by Paris or Berlin."

In Britain, news of the treaty change has led some euro-sceptic tories to call for a referendum on the subject. But on Thursday the leader of the government's junior coalition party, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, said London would simply wave the measure through, and would not push for EU powers to be repatriated to London.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is to explore the details of how a permanent crisis mechanism should be set up, and will report back to EU leaders with his conclusions in December.

[Source: By Andrew Wilis, Euobserver, Brussels, 05Nov10]

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