Key MEPs question crucial parts of European treaty text

Fri, Dec 30, 2011, 00:00

A TRIO of leading MEPs has taken issue with core strands of a draft international treaty to toughen Europe’s budgetary rules, arguing one element of the plan could lead to the destruction of the EU itself.

The MEPs, representing the main political groups in the European Parliament in talks on the new treaty, have called for key parts of a draft treaty text circulated by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy to be radically reworked.

Although the parliament has no veto over the new pact, the MEPs’ intervention further complicates what is already a difficult process.

In a document seen by The Irish Times, they question the proposal to give member states the right to take action in the European Court of Justice against countries that do not introduce a “golden rule” binding them to run balanced or surplus budgets and to limit their national debt.

“At best it is questionable whether it will work; at worst it will pitch member states against each other, which will be the start of the end of the union,” said Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium.

Mr Verhofstadt, centre-right German MEP Elmar Brok and Italian socialist MEP Roberto Gualtieri are representing the parliament in the negotiation of the new treaty. In relation to the proposal to give member states the power to take legal action against each other over the golden rule, they say: “The parliament has serious questions about the compatibility of this article with the treaties and about its proper functioning and will ask for further clarification.”

The talks on the treaty, which are fraught with legal uncertainty and political tension, have raised the prospect of another European referendum in Ireland, something the Government is keen to avoid as it fears a defeat. The discussions come against the backdrop of anxiety that the debt emergency will intensify in the new year as some €550 billion in euro zone sovereign and bank debt falls due in the first three months of 2012.

The three MEPs agreed yesterday on a series of amendments to the Van Rompuy text and will ask the wider parliament to back them next month. The parliament plans a vote on January 18th, two days before the deadline set by EU officials for an agreement on the basic treaty text.

By seeking a deal within this timeframe the authorities aim to leave any lingering questions to be settled by EU leaders at an emergency summit on January 30th with a final agreement by March. The central thrust of the MEPs’ proposal is to ensure a greater role in the new system for the EU institutions, something that finds favour in Dublin.

“The European Parliament is placed throughout the agreement as we insisted on all decisions being made through the community mechanism, thereby ensuring the democratic control and the role of the parliament,” said Mr Verhofstadt of the MEPs’ amendments.

In defiance of Germany’s resistance to eurobonds, the MEPs say the new treaty should bind the governments to “adopt a road map” towards the issuance of sovereign debt with a common euro zone guarantee.

With the exception of Britain, EU member states are developing an intergovernmental treaty operating outside the ambit of EU law to enforce EU budget rules because London vetoed a new European treaty. Critics say the initiative, championed by German chancellor Angela Merkel, will do little on its own to calm the debt crisis.

The MEPs say the treaty should automatically lapse after seven years and that participating governments should move within five years of its enactment to integrate its provisions into the existing EU treaties.