MEPs attack Merkel and Sarkozy ahead of summit

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A united European Parliament came out all guns blazing today, tearing into EU leaders for attempting to bypass MEPs and the European Commission in the power struggle over new economic governance measures.

The heads of the four main political groups in the European Parliament launched a stinging attack on the European Council for ignoring the new powers given to MEPs under the Lisbon Treaty and allowing Paris and Berlin to set the agenda on crucial economic issues.

MEPs say the European Council is fast becoming a self-appointed European government with France and Germany "calling the shots". The Parliament is warning that EU leaders have chosen to drift towards inter-governmentalism at a time when a Community approach is called for.

Fuelling the feud, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met yesterday (14 June) in Berlin where they agreed a watered-down economic governance plan ahead of the 17 June EU summit (EURACTIV 15/6/10).

The French and German leaders suggest that regular EU summits should play the central role in enforcing the new measures.

This puts them in direct conflict with the Parliament, which has made plain that the European Commission must be responsible for economic governance.

Deep divisions over 'Europe 2020' plan

The Parliament has already thrown down the gauntlet to EU leaders by threatening to block the 'Europe 2020' economic strategy if governments continue to base it on back-door deals (EURACTIV 07/06/10).

MEPs say the ten-year growth plan is inextricably linked to the financial perspectives – an area where the Parliament has a key role – and are intent on using their budgetary powers as leverage in their fight with EU leaders.

They say the latest revisions to the 'Europe 2020' strategy have turned it into no more than a souped-up version of the Lisbon Agenda. Without "carrots and sticks" to ensure that member states meet the targets, it will fall by the wayside just as the Lisbon Strategy did. Europe 2020 should, say MEPs, be bolder and much more ambitious.

Parliament lays out its own vision

MEPs are expected to give overwhelming support to two new resolutions hammered out in Strasbourg which set out the Parliament's own roadmap for steering Europe out of the economic doldrums.

The plan features a bolder Stability and Growth Pact with more efficient sanctions for member states whose finances look fragile. Screening of national budgets by the European Commission, as well as beefed-up powers for Eurostat – the EU's data collection arm – will be part of a robust economic governance plan.

Leaders of the four largest political groups in the Parliament believe there is an ever-growing gulf between how MEPs and national governments view economic governance.

"We think the European Commission should be in the driver's seat for economic governance – not the European Council, not the member states," said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament.

The joint proposal put forward by the Parliament demands a clear growth strategy based on the Monti report on reforming the internal market, as well as an ambitious infrastructure investment plan for Southern, Central and Eastern Europe – funded by EU loans. 

New innovative sources of finance and more efficient collection of taxes at member states level are also listed as part of MEPs' solution to the crisis.

A European Monetary Fund and the prospect of a 'eurobond' are also suggested as part of a package of measures which would bring closer integration of EU members.

Parliament prepared for 'war' with Council

Amid a united front put on by MEPs from across the political spectrum, their plea for political unity came with an all-out assault on the European Council.

Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists & Democrats group, questioned the role of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. He said the fact that MEPs primarily work with the member state holding the rotating EU presidency and Van Rompuy's reluctance to take responsibility for key decisions was a basic flaw of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Parliament is also on a collision course with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton over the European External Action Service (EEAS). Asked about rumours that Ashton is considering launching the EEAS tomorrow – against the will of the Parliament – Joseph Daul, president of the European People's Party, said doing so would be "a declaration of war".

Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, said it was significant that the four main groups in the Parliament were "standing shoulder to shoulder, speaking with one voice" at such a crucial time.

She said EU leaders have failed to chart a course through the crisis and are jeopardising international efforts at financial reform and climate mitigation.

"The French and Germans have proved to be incapable of reaching consensus. The solution to the crisis cannot boil down simply to budget consolidation packages for member states in difficulty. Instead we need to give thought to how growth and development are possible. All member states are focusing on making saving left right and centre but inequalities must also be overcome," she said.

Harms said the Parliament needs to "close ranks" and take a stand to ensure that financial regulations are in place. She added that member states must show political will to engage in closer integration but that the debate will also have to include citizens. 

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, said the open coordination method used by the European Council had delivered a toothless 'Europe 2020' strategy which risks being wholly ineffective.

He said the Parliament is uniting in an effort to send a signal to EU leaders and the rest of the world. "It's not Greece that's under the microscope. It's the way Europe manages its financial affairs," Verhofstadt said.

French MEP Joseph Daul, leader of the European People's Party group, said EU leaders must "stop acting like nothing has changed" and embrace the Community approach.

As the Greek crisis raged, the last European Council conclusions in March underlined that "overall economic policy coordination will be strengthened".

Leaders also stressed that "coordination at the level of the euro zone will be strengthened in order to address the challenges the euro area is facing". "The Commission will present by June 2010 proposals in that respect, making use of the new instruments for economic coordination offered by Article 136 of the Treaty," reads the final text.

Article 136 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the EU Council of Ministers – representing the 27 member states – can adopt measures concerning eurozone countries in order "to strengthen the coordination and surveillance of their budgetary discipline" and "to set out economic policy guidelines for them".

The permanent president of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, set up an ad hoc task force to reach this target and strengthen the EU Stability Pact.

  • 17 June: EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss 'Europe 2020' and economic governance. 

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