25 January, 2012
‘The European Union at Risk’ Policy Briefing by Andrew Duff
Last Friday (20 January) in Barcelona, MEP Andrew DUFF spoke to a conference co-organised by the Union of the European Federalists and the Spinelli Group on the current state of EU affairs. The position of the UK within the Union, the on-going negotiations of the new budget treaty, the future of the Eurozone and of the EU overall — all these subjects were covered and then debated with an audience of experts gathered at the seat of the European institutions in Barcelona.

The title chosen for the event spoke for itself but Andrew Duff stated it bluntly: ‘The EU is an experiment, and like all experiments it can fail’. For the President of the UEF, the European integration has always been an on-going process that all EU states had accepted – he instantly corrected ‘except for the UK to some extent‘. Andrew Duff went on to explain his vision of the UK/EU relationship reminding his audience that, although traditionally reluctant to fully embrace the méthode communautaire, the UK had always insisted on being at the table and participating in EU talks. The veto of David Cameron against an attempt to salvage the euro through necessary treaty changes at the last European Council was a predetermined attempt to break the traditional UK EU policy, according to the Lib Dem MEP. Duff described the veto as ‘sabotage’ that has proven counterproductive as the 26 other states circumvented it by starting to draft an intergovernmental agreement on fiscal discipline, leaving the UK isolated.

Duff then commented on the new agreement which latest draft had been released the day before. The spokesman of the ALDE group for constitutional affairs announced that, after several tries, the high contracting parties had finally found a name for this international agreement ‘Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union’. According to Duff, the new treaty has both negative and positive aspects. Starting with the bad features, he doubted the capacity of the new treaty to convince the markets. Markets are no fools, and would wonder if the decision to work outside the EU constitutional framework meant that the governments might not be serious about fiscal discipline and economic governance. According to Duff, the new treaty takes on board existing tools such as the package of legislation on economic governance – the ‘Six-Pack’- passed in September by the European Parliament. He also underlined that mention is made of the Euro Plus Pact (signed by only 23 states), whose content and value are still to be defined.

For Duff the real novelty is the introduction, on the initiative of the Germans, of the duty to entrench a golden rule and debt brake clause in national constitutions (or an act of near comparable value). On the debt brake, he highlighted that the description of the public deficit enshrined in the fourth draft treaty diverges from the description made by the Stability and Growth Pact and thus two standards will apply, creating confusion. He concluded on the debt brake stressing that the ECJ would be empowered to oversee the implementation thereof as well as having to deal with cases brought by states under Article 273 TFEU. He specified that such a procedure differs from the traditional infringement proceeding of the Article 258, led by the European Commission — under the new treaty the Commission will be at disposal of the states as a ‘consultant’ or ‘secretariat’. He finally wondered what would be the dynamic leading Member States to suddenly start to sue each other if they always had the opportunity to do so but never did in the past.

Overall, the co-chair of the Spinelli Group is sceptical about the new treaty. He stressed that ‘coordination’ is not truly federalist; ‘economic governance’ is not a proper ‘economic government’ and that taken the situation of the Eurozone, Euro summits, which the new agreement institutionalises, will have to meet almost everyday! He also questioned the relation between this new body and the EU institutions. Apart from the questions raised by the ECJ and the Commission, the British MEP wondered what would be the role of the directly elected European Parliament, whose President will be ‘invited to be heard’ at Euro summits – an odd and unprecedented situation. According to Duff, the Parliament should not get too involved in this new deal as it ought to have clean hands when the text will be taken to Court – for it will, sooner or later.

Finally Andrew Duff underlined two encouraging points. He welcomed the fact that the new text will enter into force after the ratification of the 12th Eurozone state and not wait for the 26 to have completed the process; that will set a political precedent for the inevitable forthcoming EU treaty revisions. Such revisions would take place in five years at the latest since, according to the draft treaty, its provisions will have to be integrated into EU law through a constitutional Convention. By that time, he said, the UK coalition government will have changed and things will be considered accordingly.

Andrew Duff wound up by stating that the new treaty had good, bad and curious features. He regretted that the states did not prove as enthusiastic a year ago when the Six Pack was being negotiated and insisted on the fact that what the new treaty will not give birth to a genuine fiscal union of a federal type based on solidarity among European tax payers. ‘This new treaty must work, but not too well otherwise we risk to set a dangerous precedent’, he concluded.

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