Federalists in attempt to upgrade Lisbon Treaty

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Leading MEP Andrew Duff has tabled "federalist" proposals to enable future EU treaty revisions to be made with a four-fifths majority of member states, in a bid to bypass the UK's 'referendum lock' on any further treaty amendments.

Duff gave a group of Brussels journalists a copy of a letter he sent yesterday (3 March) to European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, in which he calls for a revision of Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty.

If Duff's proposal was to succeed, future EU treaty amendments could enter into force if a four-fifths majority of member countries ratify the treaty change, instead of all member countries as is currently the case. Before any treaty change, unanimity at an Intergovernmental conference (IGC) still remains essential.

Duff, a UK Liberal Democrat MEP who sits in the Parliament's ALDE group, made it plain that his intention was to solve "the British problem," as he called it, and to counter the "referendum lock" that Britain put on any future EU treaty changes involving transfers of power to Brussels (see 'Background').

The leading MEP, who is a member of the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee and a well-known federalist, made no secret of the fact that his initiative was inspired by 'the Spinelli draft' – a draft treaty establishing a European Union written in 1984 by Altiero Spinelli, who is consided today as a "father of Europe" and a founder of the federalist movement.

Duff said he was well aware that many countries were alarmed that the UK 'referendum lock' could halt the incremental process which helps to build the European Union.

Asked if it were realistic to expect the UK to back treaty change of this kind, Duff said such a "miracle" was not impossible. "[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron is an intelligent man, who may say 'let's do this'," he said.

Asked by EURACTIV what role Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg might play, Duff said: "Nick Clegg understands my thinking of the matter very well."

Buzek is now expected to refer Duff's letter to the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, which will produce a report. Duff said that as usual, he expected the EU assembly to be divided between federalists and anti-federalists. The proposal would then be sent to national governments, which may decide to hold an intergovernmental conference and change the treaty.

Duff said he would expect his proposal to be inserted in a package with other treaty amendments that would appear in the meantime.

EU heads of state and government will meet on 24-25 March to agree on 'limited' treaty change in order to enshrine into law a bailout mechanism that has already been used for Greece and Ireland.

The UK parliament passed in January a so-called 'referendum lock' making it necessary to hold referenda on any future EU treaty changes involving transfers of power to Brussels.

The 'referendum lock' is part of a Conservative campaign promise to repatriate powers to the UK after David Cameron won a general election last May.

The idea is for major changes involving the country's national sovereignty to require the approval of British citizens, among many of whom Euroscepticism is deeply entrenched.

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