Merkel: EU Treaty change ‘should not be taboo’

Merkel Commission 6 Oct_picnik.jpg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her openness to modifying the EU treaties on a visit to Brussels yesterday (5 October), making an overture to British Eurosceptics who are seeking to use the euro zone debt crisis to repatriate powers back to Westminster.

"Europe is at a crossroads," said Merkel, echoing an earlier statement by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who was speaking alongside her at a joint press conference in Brussels.

"I made it clear that Germany wants to strengthen the European Union," said Merkel, welcoming steps taken recently to reinforce the Stability and Growth Pact, which bolstered the Commission's hand in policing public debt and deficits in the euro zone.

The German Chancellor sought to dispel doubts about Germany's readiness to bail out further euro zone countries, saying those that need it will continue to receive assistance.

"In Germany, it has gone so far as saying that if one day it becomes necessary to change the treaties to have more reliability in our working together in the euro area, then treaty amendments should not be a taboo," Merkel said, reaffirming statements made in September.

"We have to adapt our legal situation to the factual situation," she said, speaking through a translator.

Barroso confirmed that treaty change was on the agenda and rejected suggestions that the lengthy ratification process that this would entail at national level would delay the short-term decisions that markets are expecting.

"We are not proposing a treaty change to avoid the decisions we have to take now," Barroso said. "It is not a way of postponing the decisions now, some have to be taken now but yes probably in the future, it may happen that we need a further treaty change."

Merkel concurred: " Just because it was difficult to ratify Lisbon doesn't mean that in the next 3 decades we can't change anything," she said speaking in the European Parliament a couple of hours later.

"Whether that will prove to be necessary remains to be seen, but if we are talking about more Europe, more commitment and more ability for Europe to act, then we need to make sure that the conditions and pre-conditions are set out in the Treaties."

The announcements will resonate with the Eurosceptic fringe of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, which was closing its annual conference on Wednesday (5 October).

Cameron is under pressure to use the eurozone crisis as a pretext to repatriate powers from the EU, with the most Eurosceptic Tories pushing for a parliamentary vote on a referendum to pull Britain out of the European Union. His Foreign Secretary William Hague admitted that repatriating powers "may well be one of the dividing lines at the next election".

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal and Democrat group in the European Parliament called on Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to show more leadership to resolve the crisis.

"Mrs. Merkel - you have a central role in Europe's fate," Verhofstadt said in a statement after the German chancellor held talks with the leaders of the European Parliament's political groups.

"History will judge you according to the decisions and leadership you show in this time of crisis. We are pinning our hopes that you will rise to the challenge. France and Germany have historically been the motor of European integration, but always in pursuit of the common interest and placing trust and competences in the central institutions of the Union."

"At your next EU summit in a couple of weeks, Europe needs to come up with a global plan - a common vision - for economic governance, centred around the European Commission, to oversee national budgetary planning and economic policy direction. I ask you today to restate your country's historical faith in the European Union and its capacity to provide the direction necessary to resolve the crisis."

"You have said that you will do everything possible to save the euro. Now you must show that you mean it."

Some EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have argued that a treaty change could help enforce fiscal rules to avoid repeats of the debt crises plaguing members of the euro zone.

Making changes to the EU Treaty has proven cumbersome. The most recent example was Lisbon Treaty, which was eventually ratified by all 27 member states after heated debate and two referendums in Ireland.

  • 17-18 October: EU summit in Brussels

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