EU summit: Barroso vs. Merkel

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.”

George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, also deemed the idea a non-starter at a pre-summit meeting of European socialist leaders. “We are opposed to any discussion about the removal of voting rights,” said Mr Papandreou.

That is perhaps not surprising since Greece – at the centre of Europe’s debt crisis – would presumably run the greatest risk of losing its vote.

Mr Papandreou, however, did not rule out Ms Merkel’s other aim: changing the EU treaties to create a permanent version of the bailout fund that has kept his nation afloat. Mr Papandreou said he had no objections – as long as there was a thorough discussion that took account of all member states.

The socialists were meeting at a modest restaurant on a side street not far from the EU quarter, but utterly lacking in the opulence and grandeur that usually accompanies world leaders. A sign of the new austerity?