A Franco-German proposal to sanction eurozone budget sinners by stripping them of their EU voting rights faces massive opposition from other countries in the bloc, it emerged after a two-day summit in Brussels on Friday (29 October).
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy avoided giving a direct answer when asked by EURACTIV after the summit to comment on the divisive voting rights issue, which has been vigorously pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (see 'Background').
But European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who was standing beside him, set the record straight, stating that the mandate given to Van Rompuy excluded "any kind of suspension of voting rights in this revision of the Treaty".
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said opposition to the Franco-German proposal had been "fierce […] very fierce" during the two-day meeting.
"This idea, which was Franco-German, to strip voting rights from countries which consistently breach the [Stability and Growth] Pact has not been endorsed by the European Council," Juncker said, in response to a question from EURACTIV.
He explained that Van Rompuy had been tasked with investigating whether budget sinners should be stripped of their voting rights on issues restricted to the European Monetary Union (EMU), meaning that their prerogatives in other areas would remain unaffected.
"Now Mr. Van Rompuy will ponder the limited issue of removing the right to vote on EMU-related issues," Juncker said, speaking in French.
The long-serving prime minister of Luxembourg, known for his outstanding expertise in EU monetary and financial affairs, expressed hope that the voting rights penalty would never be adopted.
France, Germany refuse to admit defeat
Speaking to the press in another meeting room, French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented a different interpretation of the voting rights issue.
"Herman Van Rompuy will examine this question, which is of particular importance […] even if thorough preparatory work is needed," he said.
At a press conference in an adjacent room, Merkel said the voting rights were "still on the agenda". "The subject of voting rights, which we are not taking off the agenda, remain on the agenda," she said.
The chancellor added, however, that those changes would come as part of future treaty change.
Avoiding referendum threat
Juncker explained that the treaty would be changed in a "slight" way, which would not require ratification in some member countries. As the summit conclusions specify, the 'no bailout' Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty will not be modified.
Instead, the mechanism will rely on Article 122, which allows for helping EU countries at times of "severe difficulties" like natural disasters or an energy emergency.
Because in such cases there would be no transfer of competence, there is no need to call referenda in those countries "which are fond of such exercises".