Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mood music

Despite the hyperventilating Sunday Telegraph which earlier this month was sending Blair off to Brussels to sign a new treaty, more stumbling blocks on the "road map" to a resolution of the EU constitution "crisis" are emerging.

Courtesy of Reuters, via Javo we learn that the governments of three countries, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, have not been able to resist the temptation of ladling their own ideas into a putative treaty. They are resuscitating the old idea of giving national parliaments the power to block proposed EU legislation under a treaty, the so-called "red card" option.

This idea was actually brought up during the original constitutional negotiations, and rejected in favour of a watered-down procedural option of (graciously) allowing member state parliaments to ask the commission to reconsider legislation. But here we go again, with the same old, same old.

We saw something of this in April when Barroso proposed to hold a "brainstorming" session in Portugal, to discuss the constitution, only to call it off in a hurry when it was learnt that this was crossing wires with the Merkel initiative.

This time, we hear from an unnamed senior German official who says that Merkel "does not find the idea to be very controversial," expressing confidence that the plan would be accepted in the end. Confidence he might have, but such a plan would not meet favour with the commission, which would be bound to muster its supporters to oppose any such proposal – as it did the last time.

However, it appears that this is not the only proposal in the air. It is, we are told, only one of several that will be aired when senior officials from EU member states meet in Berlin next Tuesday for the first joint session to thrash out the outlines of a new "slimmed-down" treaty.

If any of these survive, and seek to vary the existing constitution draft in any way, this will immediately open the way for a full-blown Inter-governmental Conference (IGC), when anything goes, building towards a new draft which will have to be agreed to unanimously by all member states, with the ratification process starting again from scratch – referendums and all.

With the mice nibbling at the margins, any idea of the "colleagues" agreeing a "treaty-lite" in June – comprising a cut-down version of the original constitution draft, but no other changes – are almost certainly nil.

Thus the language coming out of Berlin has been watered down, with Merkel now just "hoping" to broker an agreement on a roadmap and political guidelines for a new treaty. This, potentially, is to be in place by mid-2009, in time for the new EU-parliamentary elections.

Given that the "colleagues" can never resist the temptation of lining up to champion their own pet ideas, not least Sarkozy, who has some very distinct ideas of his own.

The mood music thus suggests that we are in for a long drawn-out round of negotiations, making even a 2009 timetable look wildly optimistic. And, given that they could not even bring themselves to sign the rather slender Berlin Declaration (pictured), there is absolutely no certainty whatsoever that the "colleagues" will be able to agree a final treaty.

All of that makes the squeaking from some of the Eurosceptic groupescules more than a tad premature. It would pay to wait until we see the whites of their eyes before we discharge our rather limited ammunition.


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