Friday, May 14, 2004

It's complicated - and worse

In reviewing the last Irish presidency "working document", described as a "proposal" and a "non-proposal", I referred to the "toe-curling opacity" of some of the provisions and their amendments. So complex were they that comprehension is almost beyond the wit of any mortal man - the very antithesis of transparency.

With the latest set of documents, it does not get any easier. We are now having to deal with amendments to amendments, with texts being subtly altered. The results, however, are far from subtle, or unimportant.

The first example of this - of what will be many posted today - is the controversial issue of the arrangements for the presidency for the Council of Ministers.

In the original draft (Art I-23) the presidency was to be held by member state representatives "on the basis of equal representation for periods of at least a year". In the 29 April draft, this provision was deleted and the decision was passed to the European Council, to be "established unanimously be a European decision."

That, in effect, meant that the Irish Presidency had ducked the decision. It was no longer to be in the constitution - instead it was to be made at a later date by the European Council. But at least the decision was to be taken unanimously.

Now, however, the draft has been further modified. Responding to the "wish of many to provide for greater flexibility in the future," the Irish presidency it is now proposing that the presidency arrangements could be amended by QMV. (CIG 75, p 4 and 9).

Although not exactly one of Blair's "red lines", the "colleagues" set great store by their institutional arrangements, not least because he who holds the chair, sets the agenda. And, in effect, that agenda-setter is to be decided by QMV, representing another small, but significant loss to the members states of their powers.

So far, therefore, all the amendments point in one direction - towards a diminution of the powers of the member states.

This makes one paragraph in today's Daily Telegraph all the more extraordinary, where Ambrose Evans Pritchard wrotes, albeit in respect of another provision:

"Britain is relaxed about the latest change, believing that real power under the new constitution will be concentrated in the Council of Ministers, while the commission is knocked down a peg or two".

Hence survives and is reinforced the canard that giving the Council of Ministers, or the European Council, more power is somehow acceptable. But they are both EU institutions, and power assumed by them is power taken from the member states - even more so when QMV is involved.

On the cards with this provision, therefore, is a significant loss of such power, more than was first proposed in the original constitution.

More to follow.

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