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The Multiannual Financial Framework

Posted by Richard Saturday, June 19, 2004

This is one to watch, not least because when you drop this leaden phrase into a conversation, everyone stops talking and gapes in awe at your erudition… at least, I think that's what they were doing when I tried it. Translated from Community-speak, it does of course mean that you make financial plans spanning more than one year – not a bad idea in principle, although that’s neither here nor there.

The reason to watch this – as set out in Article I-54 – is that it has one of those famous "passarelle" clauses, which enable the European Council to turn a "unanimous" voting requirement into QMV – by a unanimous vote. The significance of this is that it amounts to making treaty changes – or changes which would have required treaty changes, if you catch my drift – without having to have an IGC, signing and that tiresome process of ratification.

Thus, under Article I-54 the Council can lay down a multiannual financial framework, acting unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. But, if it feels like it, the European Council "may adopt, by unanimity, a European decision allowing for the Council to act by a qualified majority when setting out the multiannual framework".

The existence of the "passarelle" represents a partial climb-down by the "colleagues" as in an earlier draft the Council could act by QMV, so this is one of the "red lines" that Blair has managed to "protect". For now he has his veto but the colleagues have not gone all the way. They have left the door half open to revisit QMV at another time – when they have a different prime minister, of catch him/her at a moment of weakness.

The trouble with this clause is that our lot keep having to say "no" which puts them on the back foot. But say "yes" once and they’ve got you. You might say this is a "wobbly veto".