‘Tough negotiations’ dragging on at EU Treaty Summit

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Following a number of bilateral talks and round table meetings, diplomats were hopeful to reach an agreement among EU leaders on a ‘Reform Treaty’ on 22 June. However, key elements remained uncertain as the Summit promises to bring another late night of discussion.

Following intensive talks with the most critical delegations from Poland, the UK, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, it remains open on 22 June whether EU leaders would be able to return to their countries with an agreement.

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said in the afternoon that he was optimistic about finding an agreement, but added that “it is still a long way to go” and that there was no “breakthrough” yet.

He told journalists that he saw consensus emerging on the issues of a EU foreign minister and Sarkozy’s proposal to scrap a reference to “free and undistorted competition”. Gusenbauer added that it is likely that there will be an “EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy” double-hatted as Commission vice-president and chairing Council foreign affairs meetings.

Negotiations over the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Council voting system promise to drag on, with diplomats preparing for late night negotiations.

Poland remains opposed to the proposed “double majority” voting system, but diplomats are optimistic that a solution can be found. A compromise formula could include a sort of “Ioannina clause”, making it possible to verify decisions taken at a narrow majority, as well as prolonging the use of the current voting system, which gives Poland and Spain a high number of votes vis-à-vis the biggest member states. Poland seeks to keep the current system until 2020, but it is speculated that a compromise of 2012 might be found.

A French government spokesperson said: “France and Germany are doing all they can to come to an agreement on the voting rights issue” by this Friday. He added: “This is the moment of truth. We have never been that close to an agreement as well as to a standoff.”

The German Presidency is expected to present a new version of the IGC mandate text tonight, which is said to be “close to the final version” and shall be discussed by EU leaders over dinner.

A high-ranking Portuguese diplomat told EURACTIV that he was “optimistic” and that the atmosphere was “increasingly positive” towards reaching a favourable outcome. He said: “The Portuguese Presidency needs a precise mandate. We need to know what to do next and should not leave things open.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had announced after the first day of talks that she saw “widespread political will” to come to an agreement. Ahead of a second day of discussions, she said: “We shall continue to work hard. Every one of us is doing our best.”

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told reporters that he expects it to be “a very long day”. Balkenende wants to give national parliaments a greater say and lay down the criteria for future enlargement in the Treaties. He added: “I hope that there is going to be an agreement, but I insist on the fact that these points are important for the Netherlands.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair stated: “We do need satisfied, and we do need satisfied in full.” However, he added: “On the other hand, of course we want to make sure that Europe works more effectively. This is going to be a very tough negotiation.”

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said: “There is a proposal in the air, not really on the table, but it should make everybody happy. It is clear that the Polish proposal to eliminate the “double majority” voting system has no chances to go ahead, but we could consider the introduction of a clause, inspired by the “Ioannina compromise”.”

Czech President Vaclav Klaus told reporters that a failure to agree on a Reform Treaty at the Summit would not be a “disaster”. The declared Eurosceptic President added: “This is just the lie of those eurocrats who tell us that you have either the enlargement or the treaty.”

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “All delegations have a long way to go. We had a first round of tough negotiations.”

European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering stated: “The Parliament’s consent is needed to embark on an intergovernmental conference. We shall painstakingly review the outcome of this summit to establish whether it genuinely reflects the substance of the Constitutional Treaty.” He added: “The European Parliament is the directly elected representative of the European Union's citizens and, as such, insists on being appropriately involved in and represented at all levels of negotiations at the prospective intergovernmental conference.”

The negotiations on the new Reform Treaty seek 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 achieve political agreement on the main amendments to the Treaties, in order to be able to swiftly convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which should take care of the more technical legal matters as of this summer. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is working hard to get EU leaders to agree a draft IGC mandate, which sets out the Treaty-change provisions in detail.

  • Negotiations are expected to continue until late at night on Friday (22 June) and could even be extended to Saturday (23 June)

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