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Merkel Wants Change on Energy and a Stronger Union

  • January 22nd, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

merkel-bxl-council-dec-06.jpgThe German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has taken over the current European Union Presidency with plans for energy and the environment – and also to revive the debate about a new European constitution.

Energy Plans

An agenda on energy was set out in the plan recently announced (10.1.07) by the European Commission, focused on restraining Europe’s growing dependence on energy supplies from outside sources; steep and controlled reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, to control global warming; and cultivation of alternativge energy sources, which would include energy crops, and might permit further dependence on nuclear energy. (See EUAustralia, “Europe to attack global warming, dependence on outside sources, and inefficiency in the energy business”, 21,.1.07).

Moves for a constitution

Chancellor Merkel told the European Parliament (17.1.07) an expanding European Union needed a workable system, and during her six-month Presidency she would propose compromise measures on the stalled process for getting a constitution.

She hoped that the new provisions could be agreed on before the European Parliament elections due in 2009.

At the same time the French Socialist party Presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, said she favoured sending France back to a new referendum on the constitution in time for the 2009 elections.

She said it would emphasis human rights planks in the general platform, incluiding rights of employees.

A “no” vote against the constitution in France, and also in the Netherlands, in 2005, margins in the area of 60-40 against, stopped progress towards acceptance of the all-Europe constitution.

It had been accepted, by referendum or vote of parliament, by fifteen states (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain).

The voting occurred in a climate of anxiety over uncontrolled immigration within the consolidated territory of the European Union, with fears being expressed that more consolidation would mean a collapse of each country’s ability to govern its own affairs.
At the Brussels European Summit in December 2006, European leaders indicated consensus that after Bulgaria and Romania (joining in January 2007), they could not accept any more new members under present rules; changes including a more flexible system of decision-making, using qualified majorities, would have to take place first.
Debate on the EU Constitution

In public debate, supporters of the consolidation say the new constitution would give more authority to the elected Euroipean Parliament; simplify the overall structure of the supra-national authority; give effective guarantees of public freedoms; confer economic advantages through easier operation of the single Eurpean market; and allow European authorities to act on a continent-wide basis to regulate immigration and protect security.

The change is geneally well-supported within the larger European countries, which see it as a consolidation of demoncratic practices and a way towards further strengthening of the economy.

The one large country harbouring strongest opposition is the United Kingdom, where the preferred model for Europe is for an extended customs union with weak political ties, open to many states in and near Europe, e.g. the UK supports entry by Turkey.

That country’s relative independence from Europe is underwritten by its being the home base for a very large finance industry and its close relationships at different levels with the United States.

Background

Political leaders of the European Union from all sides – the executive Commission, the Council made up of Ministers from member countries, and the directly-elected European Parliament – have worked together on plans for a unifying constitution since 1992.

In that year Europe consolidated its single market and introduced the international currency, the Euro.

It also adopted the Maastricht Treaty permitting common action by the EU members, operating more like a single state, in the fields of foreign policy, and justice and home affairs.

Later agreements (e.g. Nice Treaty 2001) gave a greater role to the European Parliament in the brokering of joint European laws.

Proposals then made for a European constitution included substantial shifts in the legal basis of EU decisions, and a consolidation of the accumulation of Treaties, protocols and annexes that provide the present foundations of the organisation.

These were brought together in a treaty signed at Rome in 2004, and the argument now is about member countries ratifying that treaty, to bring the constitution into being.

Provisions include:

  • Guarantees of public rights including rights to equality, freedom from discrimination and access to justice; with a provision for direct public initiatives in starting legislation.
  • Provision for the first time for individual member countries to be able to secede from the European Union.
  • A system of qualified majorities for the European Council, 55% of member countries representing 65% of the EU population, displacing consensus practices – considered more workable with increased numbers of member countries.
  • Regularised joint adoption of EU laws by the Parliament and Council, increasing the effective power of the parliament.
  • Entry of the foreign policy and justice functions into the mainstream of EU competence.
  • Election by the Parliament, on proposals from the Council, of a European Foreign Minister, to head joint foreign policy initiatives; displacing the existing functions of European Commissioners in that area.
  • Endorsement of a program of action under the justice and home affairs power, to deal with asyluim, immigration and security matters under a single authority, with a European police agency and European Public Prosecutor’s office.

Reference:

“A Constitution for Europe” , European Union, http://europa.eu/constitution/index_en.htm (21.1.07)

“We must have Britain on our side to make Europe work”, The Times, London, 9.1.07, p 27

“Royal vows to seek EU charter vote”, The Independent, 18.1.07; http://www.independent.co.uk (19.1.07)

Picture: Chancellor Merkel at the Brussels EU Summit, December 2006; European Council photograph

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