UK Conservatives balk at plans for eurozone parliament


British Conservative MEPs have cried foul over a proposal to create a permanent European Parliament sub-committee to deal with the single currency, saying it would have “major implications for the UK to regulate its financial services sector” and represented an attempt to “curtail” the influence of British MEPs.

Syed Kamall, the leading British Tory MEP in the European Parliament, said such a development would be “divisive and dangerous”.

"To create a separate committee that only euro-zone MEPs may belong to sets a dangerous precedent. It is a case of divide and rule,” he said.

His comments came in response to a letter sent by British Liberal MEP Sharon Bowles, the chairwoman of the Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee (ECON), who called for a special sub-group to convene on areas related to the euro single currency.

The Bowles plan is currently only a recommendation, but Kamall said he feared a new economic and monetary union subcommittee would be pushed forward in June when the Parliament's new committee structure would be developed after the EU elections.

British Conservative MEPs, who would be excluded from the sub-group, fear that important decisions could be taken behind their back.

“This would have major implications for the UK to regulate its financial services sector as it sees fit, given the big steps towards federalisation of bank supervision and regulation that have taken place in recent months,” the Conservatives said in a statement.

The idea of creating a eurozone Parliament is not new and was recently relaunched by Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said countries using the euro should be able to cooperate more closely on matters relevant to the single currency.

Andrew Duff, a British Liberal MEP and president of the Union of European Federalists, backs the idea, saying the 18 countries sharing the euro currency will in future increasingly take decisions on matters such as taxation, from which Britain will want to opt out.

"It would be scandalous for a Brit MEP like me to vote taxes on people that I wasn't directly representing and who aren't able to overthrow me," Duff told EURACTIV in a September 2012 interview.

But the idea of a eurozone Parliament is controversial, not only among British conservatives. Hannes Swoboda, chair of the Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group, dismissed the notion out of hand. "The idea of creating a eurozone parliament is absolute nonsense and would be counter-productive," Swoboda told EURACTIV in September 2012, when the idea was first floated.

"The euro is our currency, there is no need for a parliament at currency level. We have the European Parliament and national parliaments to work on the issues at hand, which they are doing,” Swoboda added.

The Bowles letter, which EURACTIV has seen, says the Parliamentary sub-group “could be entrusted with the scrutiny of the EMU”, including banking union matters and the oversight of the eurozone’s financial stability mechanisms.

The strictly legislative role, however, would be kept by the existing parliament committees, which would go some way in soothing British concerns.

For the UK Conservatives, this is no less than a ploy to side-line Britain: "If it is felt necessary to create a separate committee for euro-only MEPs, then why on earth are MEPs from landlocked Austria able to vote on European marine policy?,” Kamall said.

“This represents a major attempt to curtail the influence of UK MEPs."

Reacting to EURACTIV's article, Sharon Bowles stressed that her letter was not her own initiative but was "a recommendation from the ECON committee coordinators representing all 7 political groups" represented in the European Parliament.

"Therefore this is not a 'Bowles Plan'," she stressed.

Bowles explained that the seven political group coordinators had identified two options which were designed to "manage the heavy workload of the ECON Committee":

  • The first is "to significantly increase the resources available under the current committee structure for scrutiny activities in the area of economic governance, the European semester, monetary policy, and supervisory activities."
  • The second is "to entrust the scrutiny of the EMU to a sub-committee of ECON", but maintain the legislative role with the existing ECON committee. "The EMU subcommittee would manage non-legislative scrutiny tasks related to the Eurozone, banking union and oversight of the fiscal compact."

Bowles insisted however that membership would remain open to all MEPs under that second option.

"No one is excluded from membership of this committee as this would be illegal under the Treaty and current rules and regulations governing the Parliament structures."

"Therefore no UK MEP would be prohibited from sitting on this committee," Bowles said.

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 eurozone.

Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a staunch pro-European, said he was open to the creation of a separate European parliament for countries using the euro.

>> Read: Schäuble advocates separate eurozone parliament

Schäuble has also argued for the European Commission to be turned into a “European government”, with a directly-elected president.

According to Schaüble, a review of the treaties should start at the latest within five years.

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.

  • 3 Feb. 2014: Next meeting of ECON committee in Strasbourg
  • 22-25 May 2014: Elections for European Parliament

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