EU Commission wants to extend majority voting by ministers


RADICAL proposals from the European Commission for a substantial extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers, including highly sensitive areas such as foreign policy, are set to ignite new controversy throughout the European Union. Further moves towards a defence union are also proposed.

Next week the Commission will throw down a gauntlet to member states, particularly Ireland: which assumes the EU presidency in June, to turn this year's InterGovernmental Conference (IGC) on the reform of the EU into a major platform for greater integration and a federal Europe.

The European Commission proposes that governments should also agree to substantially enhance the powers of the Commission President.

Confirming acute concerns in Dublin, the EU executive is seeking to remove the automatic right of each member state, particularly the smaller ones, to have a commissioner at the top table in Brussels.

And it is proposed that under his enhanced powers the Commission President, and not the member state government, would decide who the commissioners will be.

The draft of the Commission's submission to the IGC on the reform of EU structures, which has been seen by The Irish Times, proposes incorporation into the EU treaty of the controversial Maastricht Social Protocol, of the Schengen Treaty on a passport free Europe, and eventually of the Western European Union defence organisation.

The EU Commission's proposals to the treaty changing conference, which begins its work with a summit in Turin at the end of March, also calls for substantial simplification of EU procedures and legislation, and new powers for MEPs.

It makes a strong case for ending unanimity voting in the Council of Ministers in all but a few "fundamental" areas.

Ireland is also likely to strongly oppose merger of the WEU defence organisation with the EU and the Commission's unequivocal commitment to a defence union, both of which would effectively end its neutrality.

And Dublin will find the introduction of majority voting in foreign and security policy very difficult to swallow.

The IGC submission was debated in the Commission yesterday and will be finally ratified next Wednesday. Sources in the Commission say, however, that the document is unlikely to be changed significantly.

While it is unlikely that the Commission's proposals will fully survive the process of consensus building in negotiations between member states, its "maximalist" position will rekindle the debate and certainly enrage the British, in particular, with its suggestion that even foreign and security policy and immigration issues be decided by qualified majority vote. (QMV).

"Already unanimity is not conceivable in the context of a substantial enlargement," the report says.

London, however, has already committed itself to a policy of no extension of QMV. Moreover, Britain, like Ireland, is not a signatory to the seven nation Schengen Treaty which provides for passport free travel around member states. It has also made its opt out from the provisions of the Social Protocol a matter of fundamental principle.

"The European Union must not be condemned to progress at the speed of the slowest member," the Commission argues. The submission similarly calls for bringing large parts of the traditionally inter governmental areas of justice and home affairs into the Community ambit.

Ireland will find some comfort from support in the document for the six month rotating presidency.