European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

European Law Monitor newsGordon Brown should honour referendum pledge in UK

In a debate on the EU summit of 21-23 June and the achievements of the German presidency, most speakers broadly welcomed the summit's success in agreeing at last on the content of a reformed EU treaty, even if the result was not ideal.

Introducing the debate, Parliament's President Hans-Gert Pöttering welcomed Council President-in-Office Angela Merkel on what was her fourth appearance before the EP in six months, saying this should set an example to future Council presidencies.   He thanked her warmly for her good will, her patience and above all her determination, without which the summit's result could not have been achieved.
Mrs Merkel, on behalf of the Council, opened the debate by telling the House that following the summit "Europe can once again look forward to a period of strength and confidence". The summit had been a success not just for Europe but especially for the European Parliament, which had always "defended the substance" of the constitutional treaty.  
She believed the "fears of a European super-state and a dilution of national sovereignty" had been met, partly by dropping the reference to EU symbols, while real success had been achieved on several fronts.
The EU's internal rules and policies had been overhauled. She listed all the key changes, including a "European political quantum leap" on foreign policy: the High Representative will be a Commission vice-president, with a European diplomatic service. Majority voting in Council will make it easier to tackle cross-border crime.   And the transfer of powers is "no longer a one-way street", since some powers may be returned to Member States.
Steps had been taken to bring Europe closer to its citizens and a solution had been found on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.   "We know", she said, "that the United Kingdom has its own legal traditions and we must respect this" but she was glad the other Member States had agreed to accept the charter as legally binding.
Lastly, the European Parliament would have more rights under the new treaty. For example, as a rule the EP will be "on an equal footing in legislation" with the Council and will now elect the President of the Commission.
The EU states were now in a position to focus on the big issues and move forward together.   She cited an African proverb: "If you want to move fast, go alone. If you want to go further, move together".
She saw the summit agreement as closing the circle of the German presidency and said she hoped that in 2057 people would be able to look back and say "they did something right in 2007".
Commission President José Manuel Barroso recalled his institution's declared "twin-track" aim, first to deliver results for citizens and second to get treaty reform under way. As successes on the first point, he cited measures on energy and climate change, innovation, red tape and the mobile roaming regulation. On the second - treaty reform - he referred to the Berlin Declaration as a key step in the run-up to the European Council.
Before the summit the EU had been divided between 18 Member States that had ratified the constitutional treaty and 9 that had not, including two that had rejected it in referendums, noted Mr Barroso. Now, "all the 27 Member States are united (...) and we should be grateful for the willingness of all governments to compromise". The ratification process should be seen "as a great moment of solidarity and unity in Europe and as an historic opportunity to consolidate EU enlargement".
The reformed treaty "will probably not be an example of the finest poetry, but I have no doubt that it will be a very good example of excellent prose if it is concentrated precisely on the capacity to act of the European institutions".
Like Mrs Merkel, he listed the benefits of the new treaty, including a legal personality for the EU, 40 new areas of qualified majority voting and the fact that energy policy and climate change are now "core priorities of the Union".   The boost to the EU's external affairs role was welcome, as "It is only by combining the forces of our Member States and of our institutions that we can compete with other leading powers".     And accountability and democratic legitimacy will be enhanced, because "the vast majority of European laws will be adopted jointly by the European Parliament and by the Council in full respect of the Commission's right of initiative".
National parliaments, too, will be more involved in the workings of the EU, as the Treaty will amend the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality. Mr Barroso welcomed the greater role for national parliaments, provided that the Commission's right of initiative is respected and "involving national parliaments in the control of subsidiarity" does "not undermine the essentials of how the European Union works".
Welcoming the fact that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be binding, Mr Barroso noted "We cannot promote fundamental rights all over the world and not say that we consider them binding at home", adding that "The Charter is for European citizens and the rights of the citizens against any power that could limit those rights". As such, it will be a "central part of the system of checks and balances in our Union of law".
He concluded by warning against "a perverse alliance between those who resist a political Europe and those who oppose the single market", adding that we cannot defend the European project by attacking the single market and trying to fragment what has been one of the greatest achievements of our integration in Europe".

Political group speakers

For some months, the German Presidency has been "the tiger in Europe's motor" said EPP-ED group leader Joseph Daul (FR), paying tribute to Chancellor Merkel.
The atmosphere has changed from gloom to hope, and even optimism, in policy areas from globalisation through energy security and renewable energies to CO2 emissions and climate change.
The G8 meeting in Heiligendamm showed our partners that when we are united, we can exert influence, he continued, citing as further examples progress in opening up the transatlantic market and the "open skies" agreement with the US and Chancellor Merkel's laying down of Europe's "red lines" at her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samara.
The EPP regrets the removal of symbols from the treaty, but understands that "politics proceeds by compromise" concluded Mr Daul.
For the Socialist group, Martin Schulz (DE) said the EU summit gave us "less than we needed but it did achieve a great deal" in that "many significant steps forward were made." Although this is "a good sign", Mr Schulz went on to remark that "a lot happened behind closed doors, whereas we here in the Parliament meet in public." Mr Schulz added that "we have transparency in Europe, in the Commission, the Parliament, but the Council does NOT have transparency."
Mr Schulz stated that "some governments of the EU...didn't play the game", in particular "the Polish government...not the Polish people, and I make the distinction quite clearly", who "wanted something different." He added that "we will not permit the EU to go down a road that it must not be forced down", and, furthermore, that "we will not permit the few to...destroy the idea of Europe."
Concluding, he said "in 2050 people will remember the pro-Europeans and not the [those] that tried to stop the idea of Europe."

Speaking for the ALDE group, Graham Watson (UK) said that "agreement came at a price", and that "the real casualty was idealism", for "losing the symbols of our union is a pity." On the reformed treaty, Mr Watson remarked that it "reads like the instructions for building a Japanese pagoda translated into English by a Chinese middle-man", but that "only time will tell whether the changes to the text are cosmetic, or a wholesale attack on Europe's fundamental civic and market values."
On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Mr Watson added that "for liberals and democrats it beggars belief that a British Prime Minister is depriving UK citizens of the rights which made his country respected • and which are now guaranteed to other citizens • to pander to the popular press."
Mr Watson concluded by saying that "while the result is not flawless, the edifice you have built is sturdy: the roof should not leak, so long as the building blocks of progress are cemented by the mortar of determination."
On behalf of the UEN group, Cristiana Muscardini (IT) said it was "thanks to the efforts of Mrs Merkel [that] we have a success." There were, Mrs Muscardini continued, some regrets, that "the Commission will be smaller, the charter of rights is lacking some family and child rights, the lack of reference to our roots, the lack of symbolic recognition for the EU." She added that "Europe shouldn't be a state, but as a union of states it does need symbols that represent and unite us."
She did, however, "applaud the extra relations with Africa which will help us to defeat poverty and terrorism."   Concluding, Mrs Muscardini said that "along with the charter of rights, we need a charter of duties."  
Daniel Cohn-Bendit (DE), who spoke for the Greens/EFA group, described the agreement reached as overall a "good result" but said that the "music was lousy and it was difficult to hear the melody" at times. He said that citizens felt reassured that the EU was "making progress" but felt "they had been kept out of the loop". He described the present predicament of the Union as one of "mid-life crisis".
Turning to the Charter on Fundamental Rights he said the Greens could not accept its partial inclusion "we can't say it applies here and not there". He said it would undermine the EU's position vis-a-vis Russia and China. Turning on those countries that had not been in favour of the original Constitutional text he warned the House that the "tyranny of a minority with a veto is undemocratic". Finally he criticised former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for signing up to the Charter and then apparently moving away from it. "British people and Polish people have rights too," he said. He pledged a Green campaign for the Charter called "we want our rights".
For his group, Francis Wurtz (GUE/NGL, FR) picked up on the pledge by EU leaders to drop their commitment to "free and fair competition". Mr Wurtz sought clarification on the impact this would have and asked whether this was just a "propaganda exercise" or a "serious issue". He said that if indeed there was nothing new on this from EU leaders then it would amount to "an undignified sleight of hand". Mr Wurtz went on to say that people wanted progress and a referendum on the new text. He also addressed himself to European leaders saying that if indeed they wanted the end of competition then in July they should reject a new directive aimed at the liberalisation of postal services.
Speaking on behalf of the Independence and Democracy group, Jens-Peter Bonde (DK) saw the new voting system in Council as unfair and impenetrable.   He told Chancellor Merkel that "the losers will be the small and medium-sized countries" and "from 2017 you will govern the EU with Turkey".   He added "the double majority sounds easy but is difficult to use" and it "adds to the democratic deficit".   Moreover, the "consititution has another name but it has the same content", so there should be a referendum, something which 77% of Europeans were in favour of.   Lastly, turning to a different subject, he congratulated Mrs Merkel on her work on climate change.
Philip Claeys (BE), for the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group, also saw new the treaty as "a camouflaged version" of the constitution, or as "old wine in new bottles".   It was also "unreadable, unintelligible" he said.   And it was not true that the role of national parliaments had been enhanced, given the high threshold required for this to happen.   He predicted that "the people's suspicions will increase" and that "this triumphalism will be short-lived".
Jana Bobosikova, representing the non-attached MEPs, criticised the summit outcome, comparing the EU to Fidel Castro and the Bolsheviks. She particularly criticised what she saw as the shift away from free markets, saying "the erosion of the freedom to do business comes close to a violation of fundamental rights".

Irish and British speakers

Brian Crowley (UEN, IE) argued that "because of the sensitivities that are involved in so many areas" (such as votes in Council, the rights of national parliaments or codecision in the area of justice and home affairs) "it would be wrong for any leader of any government to fail to put forward their concerns with regard to those areas".
However, he praised Mrs Merkel, saying that, "despite the hot wind that blows around many of these summits, success was achieved and it was achieved because the core principles of the European Union • i.e. compromise, consensus, understanding and tolerance • were brought together under your great stewardship, Chancellor Merkel".
Timothy Kirkhope (EPP-ED, UK) congratulated the Chancellor "on her very successful pursuit of the climate change agenda over the past six months", saying the British Conservative Party strongly supported this.
On the outcome of the summit, he said Prime Minister Blair "maintains that the draft reform Treaty bears little resemblance to the constitutional text that preceded it.   Yet many of his fellow Heads of Government have contradicted him".   Mr Kirkhope believed that "as Mr Blair promised the people of Britain a referendum in his last election manifesto" his successor, Gordon Brown, should uphold that pledge.
He was also concerned about claims "that the pursuit by the EU of free and undistorted competition has been undermined" and yet that there is a protocol saying the EU is "totally committed to competition and free markets".   To many British people, "the internal market and a genuinely competitive economy form a vital basis for their support for Britain´s membership of the Union".   He therefore asked if the Chancellor could give reassurances on that point.
Andrew Duff (ALDE, UK) thanked Mrs Merkel "for bringing some real politics to the European Council".   He asked her "Could you assure us that Germany will always fight to combat the version of pick-and-choose Europe that is Tony Blair´s sad legacy?", adding "My view is that it is sensible now to put into practice the closer cooperation revisions that we see inside the Treaty".
Mr Duff went on "You spoke of the African proverb which says that you go faster by yourself, but you go further with others. The problem is that if you stick to the British Government´s approach, we will simply continue to go around in circles. Show the way forward, break out of the corral, and the more timid and conservative partners will follow."
Jim Allister (Non-aligned, UK) said " Mr President, you have described the new Treaty as retaining the substance of the Constitution. Chancellor Merkel agreed with that today. Commissioner Wallström said that it was essentially the same proposal as the old Constitution, and governments across Europe have described it as 99% the same. You and they, Mr President, are right!"
However, he continued, "there is one leader • correction, erstwhile leader, Tony Blair • who pretends it is something totally different. Why? So that he can con the people of the United Kingdom out of the referendum he promised them because he knows he cannot win it."   Therefore, "That is why the people of the United Kingdom still demand a referendum, and anything less would be a cheat."

Council and Commission responses

Replying to the debate, Chancellor Merkel addressed the question of whether competition was an "objective" of the EU.   Her answer was No, it was simply "a means to an end" or "an instrument", which is why it was removed from the preamble.   However, she stressed that since it was included in a protocol to the treaty, this shows that "the instrument must be unalloyed".
On the question of weighted voting, one could argue about the details but she believed a way had been found to solve the problem - and it was a fair one too.
In her view, the Commission had come out of the process strengthened. She also paid tribute to the European Parliament for its input, saying it was "good to feel the wind of idealism in our sails".   Without idealism there would only be a dogged fight for national self-interest.
Commission President Barroso also spoke about the question of free competition. He said the key point was that competition was "one of the essential components" of the internal market and a way of achieving prosperity.
Overall, he stressed that the summit had been a success and he highlighted the fact that this was the first time such an agreement had been reached between 27 Member States.

Reproduced with the permission of the European Parliament REF.: 20070626IPR08363