Italy proposes new Treaty change

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Italy's Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti called yesterday (19 April) for a new revision of the EU Treaties in order to equip the European Union with updated tools to face immigration, the economic crisis and energy challenges.

"The Treaties were written in a period that is long over. They precede globalisation," Tremonti said during a hearing with the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee in Brussels.

He invited the European Union to use the current economic and geopolitical crises as "a trigger" for new and more intense agreements.

His intervention comes amid growing discontent in Silvio Berlusconi's government over the alleged sidelining of Italian positions at EU level.

"We need stress tests for the European treaties to check if it's possible to go ahead with our common dream," Tremonti said, reportedly referring both to the Lisbon Treaty and to the Euratom Treaty.

He added that "in marriages as in treaties, the engagement is for good and bad times, altough in the treaties the emphasis is on good luck".

Criticism in Italy is mounting over the alleged lack of support shown by Brussels and other member states during the current emergency in the Mediterranean Sea, which many migrants, especially from Tunisia, are crossing to escape poverty and political instability in North Africa.

Most of these migrants land in Italian territory, and Rome has repeatedly requested a sharing of "the burden" among EU member states. Brussels is providing financial support but management of the migrants remains in the hands of the Italians.

Italian Home Affairs Minister Roberto Maroni went as far as questioning Italy's membership of the EU last week after the  latest diplomatic failure to convince other member states to shelter some of the migrants reaching Italian shores.

Tremonti insisted that "the European vision on immigration is insufficient," but added that he was not in the Parliament "to ask for money".

Many Northern European states and France have argued that the migrants currently arriving in Italy do not yet represent a genuine emergency, as they are limited in number. Frontex, the EU agency in charge of immigration, calculates that so far around 20,000 migrants have landed in Italy as a consequence of turmoil in North Africa.

In praise of private debt

Tremonti's proposals to change the treaties also referred to the economic situation and the method of assessing the financial stability of member states.

"The instability produced by the private sector has never received sufficient attention," Tremonti said, repeating Italy's long-standing call for the focus to be switched from public to private debt.

However, his proposal comes as the European institutions have just approved treaty change aimed at establishing a permanent stability mechanism for the euro zone (see 'Background').

Nuclear U-turn

Tremonti also warned against the risks of nuclear energy. "We know that its benefits are local, but its negative effects are general." Italy is the only G8 country without nuclear plants.

Rome decided to decommission them after the Chernobyl accident. However, Berlusconi's government tabled in 2009 an ambitious plan to return to atomic energy.

Immediately after the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, Italy's government confirmed its pro-nuclear stance, but later had to shift to more moderate position as the tregedy of Fukushima unfolded.

Tremonti's words come as a confirmation of the Italian government's new prudent approach to nuclear issues. Indeed, yesterday Rome proposed to freeze indefinetely its nuclear programme, marking a U-turn compared to previously held positions. 

At the same time, Italy has reviewed current generous incentives to the booming solar market – originally expected to run from 2011 to 2013. The European Union's energy chief sent a letter to Berlusconi's government urging Italy to set up a clear and predictable support scheme for the solar energy sector and ensure stability for investors to avoid possible penalties.

On 1 December 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, thus ending a decade-long negotiations on institutional issues. The Treaty of Lisbon amends the current EU and EC treaties, without replacing them.

The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) was initially going to be included in the Lisbon Treaty, but in the end remained an external legal document.

Following the financial crisis, EU leaders agreed at their December 2010 summit to limited Treaty change to allow the establishment of a permanent mechanism to safeguard the stability of the euro zone.

After the definitive adoption of the reform by the European Council and the European Parliament in March 2011, the changes will need to be ratified by all 27 member states in order to have the mechanism in force by the beginning of 2013.

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