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Breakthrough At Brussels

  • June 24th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

barroso-merkel.jpgHeads of government succeeded in making a deal on a new reform treaty to change the structure of the European Union, early Saturday (EUAustralia date adjusted 24.6.07), after weeks of haggling at negotiations – including a hectic two days at their conference centre.

ANGELA MERKEL SETS UP AN AGREEMENT

The chairperson of the European summit at Brussels, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was credited with bringing off the agreement, said it had “increased Europe’s capacity to speak with one voice.”

During the two-day summit she had four times met the Polish president, Lech Kaczysnki, whose government was threatening a veto against the treaty over changes to the voting system for EU decision-making – sometimes bringing in other leaders to help out with the talks.

At one point during the negotiations the prospect was raised that all of the other 26 states might go ahead, excluding Poland.

A compromise was reached where the present consensus system will change to qualified majority voting (55% – corrected 24.6.07- majority representing over 65% of he EU population), as originally intended, but will not officially start until 2014, with a further phasing-in period of two and a half years (permitting present weightings for countries’ votes to be used).

The rules will also allow groups of smaller states, if they lack enough votes to block decisions that they oppose, to delay the decisions being made.

SCOPE FOR NEW EU POWERS

The changes will increase the number of issues that can be decided by the European Council, made up of national Ministers, when the new voting system is in place; those will mainly be police and judiciary matters where the EU wants a better capacity to deal with international crime.

However national governments will be able to keep a veto on matters affecting foreign policy, defence, their fiscal management, culture and social security.

The British government has as well obtained the right to opt out of decisions made in connection with another initiative to be contained in the reform treaty: a binding declaration of fundamental human rights.

British officials had said that application of the provision to labour rights would undermine important legislation; the declaration overall could cause friction by going against the system of rights being guaranteed by convention instead of statutes.

OTHER CHANGES:

  • As expected a “European President”, as President of the European Council (the summit group) is to be appointed for terms of two and a half years, instead of the present system with the Prime Ministers doing it on a six month rotation.
  • There will be a Vice President who will also be the EU’s “High Representative” for foreign affairs, with a new EU diplomatic service in support.

The foreign policy post was originally to be called “foreign minister” but that bothered some member governments, who also secured an agreement that external policies would have to continue to be worked out on an inter-governmental basis.

  • A clause will allow member countries to leave the European Union, breaking new ground in creating a straight-forward procedure for secessions.
  • The executive “cabinet”, the European Commission, will be reduced from 27 members (one from each country), to two-thirds of the membership number, with Commissioners from the different countries taking turns, rotating into the jobs for five-year terms.
  • Plans to create statutes known as “Laws” have been shelved, so that European law will continue in the form of Regulations, Directives and Decisions; but the reform treaty will give the European Union a distinct “legal personality”, meaning its law-making will be more like that of a federal country, (expressly within the bounds of authority given to it by the member states).

Reference to symbols like the European flag and anthem were dropped from the plan because of fears about promoting the idea of a single European superpower.

Some disagreements remained after the two days of deliberation; the new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy had begun a campaign to get a softening of the EU’s strong anti-protectionist, competition policy, which has led to much regulatory activity with industry.
HANDSHAKES ALL ROUND

The government leaders emerged pleased that they had found a way to change and develop the European Union, following the defeat of the idea of a European constitution – sealed by referendums that said no to it in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Most called it a major “breakthrough”, and foreshadowed an early start this year to an Inter-governmental Conference (IGC) to work out all the details.

They had two chief achievements:

  • Decision–making will now be simplified, faster and less unwieldy; heads of government have been stating they could not let in any more member countries until that was done.
  • While putting the brakes on thoughts of building a “United States of Europe” the EU has now been strengthened and set up for more development in the future.

One of the main backers of such change has been the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said the European Union would now build up its credibility.

He congratulated Chancellor Merkel as the architect of the compromise and success (picture).

“This shows that Europe is on the move in the right direction,” he said.

Reference:

See Euroepan Commission, reports: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/president/focus/council_062007_en.htm (23.6.07)

See Brussels European Council, 21/22 June 2007, Presidency Conclusions, 23.6.2007 (English), Nr: 11177/07, CONCL 2, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/showPage.AsP?lang=en

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