Friday, May 14, 2004

Co-ordination of economic policy

adds: see penultimate paras

Moving on now to the second of the two Irish documents, CIG 76/04, there are many things here of interest, and some to cause considerable alarm. One of those is the provision on the co-ordination of economic policy (Article I-14).

Already strengthened by the new Irish presidency draft, Article I-14 started off by requiring member states to co-ordinate their economic policies within the Union.

In the new draft, however, the simple requirement for member states to afford that co-operation, "…in particular by adopting broad guidelines for these policies", had become, "…in particular broad guidelines for these policies shall be adopted".

In the current draft – that is the new, new proposal – this provision has a small but important addition. It now reads, "…shall be adopted by the Council".

This might not seem much of a change, and could be regarded as merely a tidying up and/or clarification. But, in the manner of things EU, the significance is not so much in what is written, but in what is not. Nowhere in this passage do we see specified the voting regime by which the guidelines shall be adopted.

For that, though, we have to refer to Article I-22 (3) of the constitutional draft, which states with disarming simplicity, "except where the Constitution states otherwise (note the capital 'C' – they do like their capitals), decisions of the Council shall be taken by qualified majority".

There we have it. With the addition of the words, "by the Council", the decision which might have been taken in a rather woolly way by the European Council (a wholly different institution) – as in the Lisbon process – now becomes firmly embedded in the Council.

And because the process is embedded in the Council, without and specification as to the voting regime, its decisions on guidelines for the co-ordination of economic policy (don’t let anyone kid you that they will remain "broad") will be taken by QMV, and they shall be adopted by member states.

A clue as to how "unbroad" those guidelines might be can be seen from another little amendment tucked into the new, new draft, this one in Article I-3 (3).

Setting out the "Objectives of the Union", the original Article gives the EU the grand objective of working for "the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and...".

In the "new, new" draft however, a mere two words are inserted after the "and": "price stablity". Yet these little words add immesurably to the economic competences of the Union, allowing it to specify guidelines on prices, direct inflation measures (which must surely include public spending) and sundry other matters.

These amendments, individually and collectively, I believe, are lurking on our side of one of Blair’s red lines. If they are, that particular red line is seriously holed below the waterline and sinking fast.

As incredibly, if Ahern is so anxious to get his beloved constitution through, why is he adding yet more provisions that are going to make it almost impossible for Blair to accept it? If Blair actually notices the amendments, that is.

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