Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

EU Treaty Renewal: What will the UK do?

The British CER (Centre for European Reform) is a London Think Tank. It favours an open British attitude to Europe and produces intelligent analyses of vital European subjects like enlargement, free market regulation, European security &c. All seen, of course from an UK-centered point of view. They publish a blog that is very much worth consulting.
Below are some parts of an article by CER Director Charles Grant. He assesses the conditions under which the UK will have to react next June, 2007, to the German proposals to break the deadlock on the necessary EU reform.

  • I share his assessment on the German, French and other continental positions to be expected. I will add some of mine in the upcoming Dutch, French and German versions of this article in the other Huib's EuroBlogs.
New to me, are his elaborations on the particular situation of power-transfer between Blair and Brown that may be expected in June, 2007, and its possible consequences for the UK and for Europe as a whole.

It is a must-read!

Britain would be unwise to thwart Merkel’s treaty plan

By Charles Grant (Director of the Centre for European Reform)

Published in the Financial Times: April 2 2007 (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007), and, April 3, on the CER Website (easier accessible, copyright CER)

ermany’s ambition to salvage large parts of the European Union constitutional treaty may provoke a serious rift between Britain and its partners.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown may be heading for a collision over what to do about the German plan. But the general view in Britain seems to be that EU treaty change is irrelevant. Indeed, something of a consensus stretches from Treasury officials to Conservative leaders to The Economist: they say the EU should forget about treaty change and focus on crucial challenges such as completing the Doha trade round, revising the EU budget, reducing carbon emissions and economic reform.
However, the EU will be incapable of tackling these important issues unless it first clinches a deal on treaty change.

But, is a 'constitutionally'-, administratively- and governmentally deadlocked EU such a big disadvantage to UK business, compared to the present situation? I doubt it. Grant puts forward three probable casualties that will occur at an isolated British "no" to the Merkel proposals:

  1. Further EU-enlargement will be stopped,
  2. Climate Change policies thwarted,
  3. Necessary budget reforms, notably on agricultural subsidies, down the drain.
Business interests in further enlargements are not impressive: Serbia? Bosnia? Kosovo? And Ukrainian and Turkish accessions are anyway not for tomorrow.
Climate change policies, as imposed by the EU, are not the kind of reinforcements of the EU, business is usually longing for.
The farm policies will be changed, with or without the UK, who are anyway dissociated from that financial burden by way of the exception that has been negotiated for Britain during the Eighties.
What remains, is a further loss of British influence and weight in Brussels.
Up to now, the UK has very intelligently compensated in Brussels for its self-marginalised position. In part because of its size (economically, financially and militarily), but also because of the competency of its representatives and civil servants who work in Brussels. That might change dramatically, if the UK sours the Merkel reform by a virtual veto. But those consequences would be felt only in the longer run.

A preview of the outlines of the Merkel Compromise
Grant assesses the German chances in June as follows:

The Germans want the EU summit in June to approve both a timetable for a conference to amend the existing treaties, and the outline of an agreement on proposed changes. The new treaty would not be “constitutional” and would lose references to an anthem and a flag, but would include the main institutional provisions of the constitutional treaty (such as the full-time president, the foreign minister and new rules on voting).
The charter of fundamental rights, which worries many business leaders, would be axed.
The Germans claim the institutional package is not negotiable, since it was a delicately crafted compromise; if one government tried to amend one bit, others would demand the same right.

With regrets about the Charter of Fundamental Citizen Rights, your blogger thinks, he may be able to live with that compromise. He expects, that continuing negotiations with countries like Turkey will force the EU to reconsider that fundamental omission. - How could you expect the Ukraine, Morocco or Tunisia or Byelorussia to reform their civil rights, if there would not be an European matrix to abide to?

But OK: It is a compromise. A skilled one.

23 out of 27 member states are expected to agree
As Grant points out, it will probably get the adhesion of virtually all continental countries (plus Ireland):
It is becoming clear that most of the 27 member states, and not only the 18 that have ratified the constitutional treaty, will back the German plan. Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated that if he wins the French presidency he will support the Germans and ratify the new treaty in parliament (of his rivals, François Bayrou would back the Germans, while Ségolène Royal’s views are unclear, but both promise referendums on any new text).
The Dutch, Czech and Polish governments have doubts about the German scheme.

The French, in spite of their negative referendum, have worked hard, to find a way out of the deadlock. I agree with Grant, that they most probably will succeed. The present Polish Government will indeed be inclined to follow a kamikaze line, but next ones will be much more flexible. I do not expect that the Czechs would risk to become isolated, even in the company of Poland and the UK.

? ? ? ?

Will the Dutch side with a British veto?
But what about the DUTCH? - The The Hague Government, unlike the French, has avoided any engagement with whatever deadlock-breaking programme, on the European level as well as on the internal level, since its June 1, 2005 referendum disaster. I wrote about that very particular situation in Dutch and in French (L'Europe Chez Soi Blog: "Les 50 Ans de l'EU: L'Autruche hollandaise s'enterre davantage" (27 March 2007). Chancellor Merkel has worked hard on her co-Christian Democrat Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende, starting early last year. The official Dutch policy, as stated by the new Balkenende Government (with Dutch Labour replacing his former liberal-conservative partner) last February, is still resumed as: "Nothing even a little bit similar to the rejected constitutional treaty." That position is remarkably similar to the view of most leading British circles. However, as far as I know, no bilateral tuning between Holland and the UK has occurred up to now. However, the Dutch, considering their relative economic weight, their geographical position and their (lack of) military power, cannot imagine to go it virtually alone, without, at least, British support.

No point of view, only paralysis
This paralytic position can only be explained when we take into account, that the leading Dutch politicians and businessmen (and, indeed the majority of the citizens) are not against the EU and its development into an economic space, a guardian for security, a comfortable scapegoat for impopular measures like the ones in climate protection, nor are they unhappy with a military shield as it used to be provided by NATO. Only, they do not dare to say so. They act as if NATO still exists and did not learn much from "go-it-alone"-disasters like Srebrenica (1995). The real Dutch position is, consequently, very different from the British one, as well as from the Czech- and Polish oppositions. The British are well-advised, if they do not count on the Dutch to keep them company in an eventual isolated position within the EU.

It is my feeling, that my Dutch are simply hoping for further delay of the fatal moment they will be obliged to make a choice. They count on the British, the Poles or whomever, to cause that delay, remaining in the shadows themselves, so as not to have to deal with problems from the German (most important trade partner) side.

Risks of British isolation
Grant does not deal explicitly with this potentially important Dutch part of the problem, but he is right when he states:

However, the British would be unwise to count on others joining them to thwart the plans of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. She is emerging as a powerful and effective leader and has dominated recent EU summits. Other leaders will think twice before vetoing the deal with which she wants to crown the German presidency.

And now the UK side of the problem:

Britain lacks a clear policy on treaty change. Mr Blair will probably represent Britain at the June summit, but Mr Brown will almost certainly become prime minister only days later. [Follow some interesting conjectures on Blairite "kill Brown" tactics, HR] They [the Brownites, HR] worry that Mr Blair may sign up to the plan and then try to bounce Mr Brown into swallowing it. Mr Brown’s allies say he would not do so.

Suppose that Britain alone, or with one or two allies, vetoed the deal that most others want. Being blamed for the ensuing rancour, Britain would lose influence across a swath of policy areas. [Follow the enlargement issue, and the farm and climate change points, HR]

In an EU stricken by institutional paralysis, with Britain marginalised, many member states would expect France and Germany to provide leadership. Ms Merkel and the new French president would dominate the EU’s agenda. They and others would probably create new groupings that excluded awkward members such as Britain. [The Nice Treaty, which would continue to govern EU relations, permits the creation of "vanguard groups" within the EU, HR].

None of this would be good for Britain. It should therefore strive to find a compromise with its partners, and be willing to accept much of Merkel’s package

And here comes the compromise-within-the-compromise that Grant proposes for the UK:

But she should remove the provisions that transfer new powers to the EU, since they would oblige Britain to hold a referendum. Thus the more sensitive extensions of majority voting should be dropped, except where it is practicable to give Britain an “opt out” from the area concerned.

Is this viable? I doubt it. Like Grant says it himself: If Germany and the other countries accept that kind of exceptions for the UK, a whole series of countries will start to put forward a conflicting mass of amendments.

My view: Between national governments, neither majority-, nor consensus-voting is ever going to work
In my view, majority- (or conditional majority-voting) among governments of member-states is indeed risky and may lead to unacceptable outcomes.
It should be abandoned in favour of

  • majority voting in the European Parliament (with its population-size related composition), and,
  • as soon as possible, in an European Senate, where national representatives who are uncommitted to narrow member-state interests, will be guardians for their territorial voters within an all-EU framework.
I am very well aware, that this kind of great structural reforms cannot be included into the present compromise. It will be, inevitably, I think, for some later occasion.
But thinking of it, may help, to be less insistent about majority voting issues between governments in the EU at this moment: Maintaining veto-rights and opt-out-rights will become its own foe. Besides: A small bit of extra majority voting will not help the EU much forward.
The other institutional issues, however, if adopted in Berlin, will.

Grant concludes:

"Germany and many others will be reluctant to make such concessions, given that Britain has already signed the constitutional treaty and declared its negotiation a triumph. But unless Britain and its partners can find a way of meeting in the middle, bitter institutional arguments will dominate the EU and prevent it from tackling the issues that matter."

Indeed. A disaster is looming. An ostrich's behaviour is probably the worst possible approach.

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