Day one of the EU heads of government summit may have broken up after 1 a.m., but European officials were already up early Friday to conduct their regular post-mortem of the drawn out fight from the night before.
At a breakfast with reporters, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said that too much attention had been paid to the dust-up over the demand by German chancellor Angela Merkel to reopen the EU’s treaties in order to insert new language aimed at preventing another Greek-style crisis.
Mr Barroso noted that the EU leaders unanimously endorsed a set of new budget rules – the product of months of sometimes contentious negotiations – that would enable the EU to fine member states who regularly violate eurozone debt norms.
Twenty-six European leaders turned up for a dinner in Brussels this evening with one burning question to discuss: Whether or not to change the European Union treaties to accommodate Germany’s demands for a new permanent bailout fund?
But one European leader burst in and insisted on talking about something else. That would be David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and his obsession was the European budget.
Multiple leaders at Thursday’s summit expressed their deep misgivings about engaging in another round of treaty changes, with several insisting that the German goal of setting up a new, permanent bail-out system could be achieved within the existing treaties.
If the idea gets any traction within the closed-door meetings, it could be due to an unexpected proposal from an unexpected place: Finland.
According to a so-called “non-paper” – diplo-speak for an unofficial proposal – that has been circulated by the Finnish finance ministry and obtained by the Financial Times, much of what German chancellor Angela Merkel wants through treaty change could be achieved by simply attaching new rules to national bond issuances.
It is still two hours before the summit, but it seems that one of Germany’s principal initiatives is already sinking badly: a drive to suspend EU voting rights from countries that violate budget rules.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, broke his relative silence of recent days to condemn an idea championed by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
“If treaty change is to reduce the rights of member states on voting, I find it unacceptable and frankly speaking it is not realistic,” said Mr Barroso, who has thus far remained quiet on the key questions that will dominate this summit. “It is incompatible with the idea of limited treaty change and it will never be accepted by the unanimity of member states.”
There was a distinctively northern European feel to the Liberal pre-summit gathering in downtown Brussels, with the leaders of Finland, Denmark, Estonia and Ireland welcoming new Dutch premier Mark Rutte to the fold.
Despite the intimate atmosphere – this is by far the smallest of the three leadership pow-wows – there was no sense that the Liberal Five will toe a common line going come dinner time.
The opening feature of any EU summit is the gathering of heads of government at their partisan caucuses. These days none is more important than the European People’s Party, the right-wing EU coalition that includes Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi.
The call by Angela Merkel to reopen the European Union’s treaties in a major address to the Bundestag is already generating reaction from heads of government in other member states as they begin descending on Brussels for a two-day summit.
Ms Merkel worked the phones the day before the summit, calling several of her counterparts in an attempt to shore up support – a sign of just how precarious her position is and her need to come out of the summit with a victory following intense criticism at home for her political deal-making to win over reluctant allies.
Viviane Reding seems to revel in picking a fight with France ahead of summit meetings in Brussels.
In comments to several European newspapers in the run-up to Thursday’s heads-of-government meeting, the EU’s justice commissioner went after French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, for a deal they struck last week on proposed eurozone budget regulations in characteristically unvarnished language.
“The decisions of the European Union are not made in Deauville,” she said, referring to the swanky French seaside resort where Merkel and Sarkozy made their deal, according to an account in Belgian daily Le Soir. The pact, she said, was nothing less than “a Franco-German diktat”.
George Soros thinks that all of Europe is becoming fiscally Germanic, and he’s not happy about it.
The famed financier and philanthropist was in Brussels Tuesday to discuss the plight of Europe’s Roma population, which made headlines last month when France began deporting large groups of Roma back to Eastern Europe.
But he took some time during a lunch with a small group of journalists to criticise Germany’s insistence on fiscal austerity, which he believes is being imposed continent-wide through Berlin’s influence over the EU’s economic institutions.
“They have emerged as the hegemon of euro-land, who set the policy for euro-land; they write the operating instructions for the new common fiscal policy,” Mr Soros said. “Europe, because of the fiscal rectitude imposed by Germany, faces I think a prolonged period of economic stagnation, conceivably decline.”
After a day’s worth of summiting in Luxembourg, we seem no closer to learning just how serious a dust-up might occur at this week’s European summit over the issue of reopening the EU’s treaties as part of an effort to prevent another Greek-style crisis.
The German government has pushed it to the top of the agenda, but officials from countries large and small – as well as, privately, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission – have voiced their distaste for another full-blown treaty overhaul, which has proven arduous and politically debilitating in the recent past.
“After 10 tortuous years we managed to chain the fierce beast and lock it in a chest for at least another decade,” said one European diplomat from a country opposed to the move. “Who guarantees us that the wretched animal will not leap out and devour us all?”
According to diplomats, the key issue appears to be how hard Germany will push their demands.