EU Treaty deal meets praise and criticism

The deal clinched at the EU Summit on institutional reform was praised by most EU leaders, but also met with criticism from pro-Europeans, as well as Eurosceptics.

Following the last-minute deal at the Summit, EU leaders expressed their broad satisfation with what hade been achieved. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who presided the meeting said she was “very, very satisfied with what we have been able to conclude”. And even Polish President Lech Kaczynski had a positive verdict saying: “We were really fighting but we also encountered solidarity”.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was happy to bring home a “simplified Treaty”, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair contented himself of having successfully defended his "red lines".

However, the Summit results also met with some criticism. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi criticised Poland and the UK for taking a hard line at negotiations and claimed that the EU had lost its common spirit to move ahead. He said: “The doggedness of some governments to negate every emotional aspect of Europe hurt me.”

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes criticised French President Nicolas Sarkozy for having insisted on scrapping a reference to “free and undistorted competition” in the Treaty text. Kroes said: “The Commission will continue to enforce Europe’s competition rules firmly and fairly, to bust cartels and monopolies, to vet mergers, to control state subsidies.”

But Sarkozy defended his stance: “I believe in competition and the market but as a means and not an end in itself.” He added: “The word protection is no longer a taboo.” The French president expressed his hopes that the different wording could “give a different jurisprudence to the Commission” and “favour the emergence of European champions”.

While pro-European MEPs praised the deal for “safeguarding the substance of the draft EU Constitution”, Eurosceptics criticised EU leaders for passing the rejected EU Constitution with another heading.

“When you look at the detail of what has been agreed, it is clear that this is just the old EU Constitution in everything but name,” Open Europe Director Neil O’Brien said. The head of the Eurosceptic UK think tank added: “This will fool no-one. This is the same EU Constitution under a different name, and the governments must keep their promise to hold referendums.”

The Young European Federalists (JEF) criticised the outcome of the Summit. JEF President Jan Seifert said: "If anything becomes obvious, then it is the huge gap between the Europe of the bureaucrats and the Europe of the citizens. Europe’s governments have opted for a Europe in which citizens and parliaments are deferred to the audience without any chance to influence."

MEP Elmar Brok (EPP-ED) welcomed the outcome of the Summit and said: “Despite all the compromises, the substance of the draft EU Constitution has been safeguarded.” He added: “In this way a reform of the EU towards more efficiency, democracy and civil rights has been made possible.”

The European Parliament Socialist group described the outcome of the EU Summit as "less than necessary but more than we expected. Group leader Martin Schulz said: "The outcome is a disappointment, but it weakens the Council in relation to the European Parliament."

The Liberals and Democrats group concluded that it was "a step forward for Europe, but a victory for nobody". ALDE leader Graham Watson said: "EU integration will continue to be driven by developments in the outside world rather than idealism from within. We must create a Union fit for purpose and we do not have the luxury of time."

British ALDE MEP Andrew Duff said: "Despite complications, the outcome at the end of the IGC will be a stronger Union, with greater capacity to act". He was positive about the proposals for the participation of national parliaments in the decision making process: "We can be satisfied that there is no threat of a third legislative chamber". Duff criticised the UK decision not to join the rest of the EU on the Charter and on criminal matters. 

Greens/EFA MEP Johannes Voggenhuber, who represented, toghether with Duff, the Parliament's rapporteur on the EU Constitution, said: "Welcome back to the Union of footnotes." On the one hand, he welcomed the fact that "a constitutional entity is the result of this Summit". On the other, he criticised several aspects of the IGC mandate, including the new articles on energy policy and the fight against climate change, which he said were "new objectives with no actual competences".

Co-President of the Green Group Daniel Cohn-Bendit said: "Even though failure was avoided this morning, the result of this summit and how it was achieved is depressing. It was an event characterized by total mistrust, undignified bazaar trading, and by a lack of vision for a future Europe.

MEP Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM, DK), a convinced opponent of the Constitutional Treaty from the start, said: "I preferred the draft constitution because at least it was honest". He said the new treaty would be "an organised cheat" against EU citizens. He criticised some of the proposals, such as the legal personality or the reinforcement of the role of the Commission President, as features of a state.

Michel Delebarre, Mayor of the French city of Dunkerque and President of the Committee of the Regions  expressed his thanks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for taking account of local and regional authorities' wishes during the preparatory phase of the European Council. Delebarre added: "It is a big step forward for European local and regional authorities. It is important that this awareness is maintained during the Intergovernmental Conference under the Portuguese Presidency of the EU. Such awareness can only be useful from the point of view of Member States ratifying the future Treaty. In any case, we will remain vigilant and ready to ensure that our gains are also found in the final text of the Treaty."

ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, commented: "We welcome the statement that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding. That is the critical test we had set to judge the success or failure of the talks. However the UK’s denial of European-based social rights for British workers is to be deplored. We hope that this will be rectified as soon as possible." It added: "We also welcome the recognition that the EU is a Social Market Economy aiming at full employment and social progress. "

Brendan Barber,  general secretary of the British Trade Union Confederation, said: "It is extremely disappointing to see that UK workers and citizens are to enjoy fewer rights than those in the rest of Europe following the opt-out from Europe's Charter of Fundamental Rights. 'Are we to think that the UK economy can only prosper by treating UK employees worse than others in Europe?" 

Ernest-Antoine Sellière, president of Businesseurope, declared: "We are pleased to see the outcome of this difficult but crucial European Summit. Businesseurope recognises the efforts made by members of the European Council under the remarkable leadership of Chancellor Merkel to achieve this successful conclusion. The European Union comes out reinforced and reinvigorated.”

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned, as the Council started of a proposal to drop the reference to "free and undistorted" competition from the EU's objectives on achieving a single market: "This is a regrettable and frustrating last-minute development. It is not just a cosmetic change - it represents a long-term threat to free competition and will strengthen the hand of protectionists within the EU in the years ahead." Cridland added: "There must be no more concessions. The UK Government should not accept the EU charter of fundamental rights within the legal framework of the treaty, as it would pose an unacceptable risk to the UK's flexible labour market." 

Hans-Werner Müller, secretary general with small business association UEAPME, said: "Failure to reach an agreement on the future of the EU would have been ruinous at this stage. We therefore praise the efforts and leadership of the German Presidency, which were instrumental in attaining an overall positive result for Europe’s crafts and SMEs." Müller also said that the Commission’s final say in competition policy is by no means altered by the Summit conclusions. "If anything, the new text confirms the Commission’s duties in the field, and clarifies that competition is a key means to achieve the Union’s results rather than an end in itself."

Fintan Farrell, president of the Social Platform NGO, cautiously welcomed the outcome of the Council: "Yes we have a legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, yes we have the horizontal social clauses, yes we have the provisions on participatory democracy, we also have an additional protocol on services of general interest, but it's not a done deal. The Treaty will be formally agreed in December, we will not lower the guard as of yet."

EU leaders managed to overcome their two-year institutional impasse on 23 June, agreeing on a “Reform Treaty”, which will be finalised at an IGC later this year and should come into force by 2009 after ratification in all 27 member states.

The Treaty deal had been a close call, with Poland and UK threatening to block the reforms due to their opposition to voting system and the Charter of Fundamental Rights respectively.

  • The report by Jo Leinen on the IGC mandate will be put to the vote in the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 9 July 2007 in Strasbourg. It is scheduled for debate and vote by the plenary later the same week.

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