Lisbon Treaty

Herman Van Rompuy, left, with President Barack Obama at last week's EU-US summit.

Fellow Brussels Blogger Josh Chaffin has a scoop in this morning’s paper on the five-page “interim report” on EU treaty changes for this week’s summit written by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, which we were able to get our hands on yesterday.

Our story focuses on what is likely to be the central element debated about the report – the suddenly fashionable proposal to do a quick-and-dirty, limited treaty change through the hitherto obscure Protocol 12 of the EU treaties, which is described on page 3 of the Van Rompuy document, which Brussels Blog loyalists can read here.

But there’s much more to digest in the report, and as is our practice, we thought we’d give a more extended evaluation here on the Blog. Read more

We now have a full copy of the conclusions reached by the European heads of government. Not many surprises in there, but I thought I’d post an annotated version below for those interested in EU arcana.

1. The European Council welcomed the report presented by its President following up on its conclusions of 28 and 29 October 2010. It agreed that the Treaty should be amended in order for a permanent mechanism to be established by the Member States of the euro are to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole (European Stability Mechanism). This mechanism will replace the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Financial Stabilisaton Mechanism (EFSM), which will remain in force until June 2013. As this mechanism is designed to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole, the European Council agrees that article 122(2) will not be used for such purposes.

The interesting thing here is the last sentence. This is the language David Cameron, the UK prime minister, was seeking to ensure non-euro countries do not get sucked into another bail-out when the new rescue system goes into effect in 2013. Read more

The clash over next year’s EU budget has widely been viewed as a contest between the austere and the profligate. The end result, after a final round of negotiations collapsed in the wee hours of the night, is that the forces of austerity, led by UK prime minister David Cameron and his Dutch and Danish allies, prevailed over a spendthrift European parliament.

But there is another – often overlooked – element to the debate that animated the member states’ unexpectedly stubborn stance: a desire to punish a Parliament that has grown increasingly assertive – some say grasping – since the Lisbon treaty came into force in December.

“There’s a feeling that they’re just going to keep pushing and pushing for more power. So it’s better to confront them now,” one diplomat explained. Read more

Any day now the advertisements should go out for the top jobs in Brussels’ new diplomatic service – the European External Action Service, as it will be boringly known.

If the optimists are right, the service will be anything but boring. It’s the most important single invention to come out of the Lisbon treaty, say the true believers. It will give the European Union the eyes and ears to forge a genuine foreign policy, and the voice to put it into effect.

On the other hand, eurosceptics are convinced it will just be a vast and expensive new bureaucracy, merely duplicating the role of national embassies. So the battle to keep its wings clipped may also be anything but boring.

The 27 member states sit somewhere in the middle – not quite sure they believe in what they are creating, wanting to keep it under control, and no doubt trying to do it all on a shoe-string. In the end, their attitude will determine if it’s a success or a failure. Read more

With good reason the eurozone’s political leaders have been criticised for reacting too slowly to the Greek sovereign debt crisis.  But what’s new about that?  Slowness often seems to be a defining feature of Europe’s approach to policymaking.

Consider the proposals that are in the air for the creation of a European Monetary Fund to manage Greek-style crises in the future.  There is widespread support for such a fund, ranging from the European Commission to Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s centre-right finance minister, and socialists in the European Parliament. Read more

Eurozone leaders back Greek rescue deal

There is joy and harmony in euro world today. After looking over the precipice, European leaders decided to pull back and agree a rescue package for Greece. At a press breakfast this morning, José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, was positively buoyant. Europe, he said, could have gone either way in the face of the latest crisis. In the end, it decided to leap forward towards greater integration and cooperation. In rock and roll terms, the whole thing had the feel of a band, whose bickering members — after threatening to embark on ill-conceived solo projects — finally calm down, come to their senses and determine to go on tour again.

-But don’t you guys hate each other? the media asks.
-No, no. We love each other. But this time we’re going to do things differently. There will be new rules about wives and girlfriends on the bus. Oh – and drugs. Vince has agreed to go cold turkey – at least during shows.

We’ll see how long that lasts. Read more

Greetings Brussels blog fans. As you may have guessed, Tony Barber is away this week, and so I will attempt to step into his shoes for a few days. Think of me as a younger, fresher version of our Brussels bureau chief. Which is to say, while Tony has lived and reported from every corner of Europe over the last 20-plus years – covering Balkan wars and Berlin walls – I am a New Yorker who first set foot in Brussels 18 months ago. Believe it or not, before I came to Brussels I barely knew my GAERC from my GYMNICH and I still get lost in the European Parliament building.

Angela Merkel arrives at the European Council

Angela Merkel arrives at the European Council

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that today’s is the most gloomy European Council meeting I’ve ever been associated with. This was supposed to be the time when a post-Lisbon treaty Europe was confidently striding on the world stage. Instead, Europe is still suffering the hangover from December’s Copenhagen climate summit, when it was rudely elbowed aside by China and the US. (A Copenhagen post-mortem will be the main Council exercise on Friday morning. Fun.) Read more

Whether it’s climate change, foreign policy or the increasingly alarming fiscal crisis, the European Union’s difficulties can be summed up in one word: disunity.  After December 1, when the EU’s Lisbon treaty came into force, disunity was supposed to be a thing of the past.  Instead, disunity has proved to be very much a thing of the present.  What’s more, the Lisbon treaty may – at least in the short term – be making matters worse.

Take the world conference on climate change at Copenhagen in December.  According to Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s incoming climate change commissioner, disunity – in the sense of a cacophony of European voices – was an important factor behind the ability of other powers to brush aside the EU’s views.  “Those last hours in Copenhagen, China, India, Japan, Russia and the US each spoke with one voice, while Europe spoke with many different voices.  Sometimes we spend so much time agreeing with one another that when finally the EU comes to the international negotiations, we are almost unable to negotiate,” she told her confirmation hearing at the European Parliament last month. Read more

There is a need to clear up some misconceptions about how Greece, or some other fiscal miscreant in the 16-nation eurozone, would be rescued by its partners in the event that it was unable to refinance its debts.

Quite a few commentators seem to think eurozone governments would find it hard to sidestep the ban on bail-outs specified in European Union treaty law.  The European Central Bank, the European Commission and certain EU governments, not least that of Greece itself, have contributed to the confusion by insisting in public that a rescue is undesirable and unnecessary (while quietly planning for precisely this contingency). Read more

How many days can a Spanish kite stay in the air?  About four, to judge from the speed with which Germany and the UK have shot down a proposal from José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s prime minister, to introduce binding mechanisms to enforce economic reform in the European Union.

The short lifespan of Zapatero’s brainwave, which he unveiled last Thursday in Madrid, is hardly surprising.  Not that it’s an especially bad idea – in principle.  Deep in their hearts, most European policymakers know the EU would benefit from closer fiscal and economic policy co-ordination, particularly in the eurozone.  They also know that the lesson from the EU’s ill-starred Lisbon agenda, which notoriously set out – and failed - to turn the bloc into the world’s most competitive economy by 2010, is that it was all too easy for governments to pay lip service to reform without doing much about it in practice (except for the virtuous Nordic countries). Read more