EU Treaty in the balance at Brussels Summit

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EU leaders were scrambling to reach agreement over a draft mandate for institutional reform at a summit on 22 June. A Polish veto threat over voting rights in the Council and British ‘red lines’ on labour law, justice and other issues remained the main obstacles on the way to a deal.

The draft IGC mandate circulated by the German Presidency ahead of the Summit sets out the main elements of institutional reform. The Reform Treaty is to amend the existing Treaties with the aim of “enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the enlarged Union, as well as the coherence of its external action”.

Despite Poland’s efforts to reopen the issue of the Council voting system, there is no explicit mention of it in the draft IGC mandate. However, a footnote refers to the fact that Poland and the Czech Republic would like to change the definition of the qualified majority voting in the Council. It remains to be seen if Poland will make use of its veto.

The text notably bans any indications that would give it a constitutional flavour. This is especially important to countries, which have suffered setbacks from negative referenda, such as France and the Netherlands, but also to those wishing to avoid a referendum, such as the UK. Therefore, the Constitution and Union Minister for Foreign Affairs labels are dropped in the text, along with any mention of EU symbols.

In order to cater for possible member-state objections, the text foresees possible opt outs to closer co-operation in the areas of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and to the treatment of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter is to enter into force through a legally binding cross reference in the Reform Treaty text.

However, the scope of the application of the Charter is yet to be clarified. Ahead of the negotiations, the UK made clear, that it will not accept “anything in a new Treaty that requires us to change our existing labour and social legislation”.

An explicit clause stating the primacy of EU law over national law, as it is already applied since 1963 will be replaced by a declaration on the principles established by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Further, national parliaments will be able to use a “yellow card” against EU legislative texts, which will force the Commission to reconsider its proposal.

Commenting on President Lech Kaczynski's participation in the EU Summit, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, his brother, told German newspaper Bild: "I would only have gone if it had been about a veto. In order to say: we do not agree." He added: "At the moment, all we want is for a debate about the voting system to be allowed."

Ahead of the Summit, UK Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett put the establishment of a European foreign minister and diplomatic service in doubt. The UK government's line on EU foreign affairs is to insist on "maintaining the ability to conduct an own independent foreign and defence policy", as well as "maintaining the UN Security Council seat".

Commission President José Manuel Barroso called on Poland and the UK ahead of the Summit: "Try to be constructive; all member states defend their positions, but don't come with 'red lines' and veto." He added: "These are not the proper words for a Union that wants to deliver."

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters: "I don't find it appropriate that some Poles think it would be necessary to restrict Germany." He added: "I can only warn against such irrational comments."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would push for a "fair agreement because the EU has to be able to act to solve the many problems that we have in the world".'

The negotiations on the new Reform Treaty will aim to salvage the main elements of institutional reform heralded by the draft EU Constitution, following its rejection by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

The German EU Presidency wants to find agreement on as many issues as possible, in order to be able to swiftly convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which will produce the final text for the Treaty. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to get EU leaders to agree an IGC mandate, which sets out the Treaty-change provisions in detail.

However, agreement is far from certain, with Poland asking to reopen the issue of the Council voting system and the UK critical of the creation of a post of European foreign minister and the inclusion of a Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

  • 21-22 June 2007: EU leaders gather for a European Summit on institutional reform in Brussels. Diplomats have suggested the Summit is likely to last until 23 June, with journalists preparing for a "three-shirt Summit".
  • Before the end of 2007: The Summit is expected to give a mandate for an IGC, which could take place under the Portuguese EU Presidency.
  • By 2009: EU leaders aim to have institutional reforms in place ahead of the European Parliament elections.

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