The last time that a Treaty change was attempted in the EU, it was UK Prime Minister David Cameron who wouldn’t bend to the will of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with Donald Tusk looking on from the Presidency of the Council of the EU. This time, it is David Cameron doing the driving, with Angela Merkel and perhaps even Nicolas Sarkozy to be persuaded (come 2017), and with Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope nobody is holding a grudge.
There has been something of a spate of “what we want from any future EU reform” shopping lists being bandied about the European Union of late. It supports my recently expressed view (‘Are we on the road to a Tallinn Treaty’, The Top Note, 21st July 2015) that, while still sniggering ever so slightly at the prospects of a UK-inspired EU Treaty change in public, governments across the region have begun to realise in private that there is not only a certain need for it based on recent experiences (in Greece, most obviously), but also a certain inevitability to it. Actually, look carefully at the last article of the Fiscal Compact (which is currently in force across every EU nation save for the UK) and you’ll see that a EU Treaty change debate is on the agenda at some point in the future whether EU leaders like it or not:
“Within five years, at most, of the date of entry into force of this Treaty, on the basis of an assessment of the experience with its implementation, the necessary steps shall be taken, in accordance with the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, with the aim of incorporating the substance of this Treaty into the legal framework of the European Union.”
EU leaders need to discuss Treaty change by the end of 2017 whether they like it or not
With the Fiscal Compact having gone into force on 1at January 2013, it therefore needs to be reviewed by the end of 2017, and that just so happens to coincide with the next British Presidency of the Council of the EU. By the way, by the end of 2017 is also the final deadline that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has set for the British In/Out referendum to take place (probably no coincidence). And if that isn’t enough for you, four other significant elections are due to take place on or around the next British EU Presidency in 2017 as well:
- For the next German Chancellor (sometime between August and October);
- For the next French President (over two rounds, probably in April and May);
- For the next European Council President (by the end of June);
- For the next Eurogroup President (by early January 2018);
Ironically, the EU’s last attempt at a Treaty change was scuppered by the UK
Of course, achieving Treaty change in the EU is easier said than done. Actually, current European Council President Donald Tusk once called it a “mission impossible”. And the last time that Treaty change was attempted in late-2011, it was none other than David Cameron himself who scuppered the process by vetoing the changes, and forcing the other members into the Fiscal Compact.
Donald Tusk knows a thing or two about failed Treaty changes
But who, I wondered, held the Presidency of the Council of the EU back in 2011 when the parties failed to make a deal? If you remember, it was Germany who held the Presidency in 2007, when the last Treaty change (the Lisbon Treaty) did actually happen. And, back then, Chancellor Merkel did a considerable amount of forward-planning and homework to ensure she maximised her chances of success. Well, it was Poland presiding over the Council of the EU back in H2’2011, with none other than Donald Tusk as its Prime Minister: little wonder he thinks that Treaty change is “Mission Impossible” then!
‘Don’ & ‘Angie’ are in some ways as close as their UK soap opera counterparts
Ever curious, I started to wonder how Donald Tusk could possibly have been selected as President of the European Council, given the failure on his watch in late-2011 to ensure a Treaty change. Yes, to be fair, he couldn’t help but have been at least slightly distracted at the time by the domestic re-election campaign that he was in the middle of. But still, how did he subsequently win his current EU job?
Actually, it was Angela Merkel who did most of the heavy lifting for Donald Tusk as a potential President of the European Council, persuading other leaders at the time that a strong statement needed to be sent eastwards towards Moscow that Europe’s eastern-most members were of the upmost importance to it. Of course, it also helped that two of the three largest members of the right-of-centre EPP party in the European Parliament were none other than Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and Donald Tusk’s PO (aka Civic Platform). The other big member of the EPP, by the way, is the Republican Party from France, who – on present polls – look the most likely occupants of the Élysée come mid-2017. The UK Conservatives would be big in the EPP too, of course, if only David Cameron hadn’t quit the EPP back in 2009, and moved his EuroMPs over to the ECR instead.
George Osborne is right: “There is a deal to be done” in Europe
Meeting senior French leaders in Paris earlier this week, UK Chancellor George Osborne emerged to say of the UK’s demands for Treaty change that “there is a deal to be done”. And I think he’s right. But what exactly does the UK have to offer Chancellor Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy (my presumed French President by mid-2017) and Donald Tusk, being the three people most upset at Mr. Cameron’s behaviour the last time that Treaty change was in the air.
For its part, France continues to like the idea of an ‘economic government’ for Europe. So it was France – and Nicolas Sarkozy – who was most angry at the UK for its 2011 Fiscal Compact veto. Of course, France does know a thing or two about vetoes, having earlier vetoed the UK’s original entry to the EU. But, if I’m right, then it will be France that will be most pleased at the notion that the UK is ready to unblock its Fiscal Compact veto when it comes up for renewal. Not only that, but it might suit everyone by 2017 (including the French people, by the way) to have a less unpleasant way of giving Greece its drachma back but keep it in the EU.
In the recent wrangling over Greece, Germany seemingly became increasingly unhappy at the EU Commission’s lack of independence (tune into Wolfgang Schaüble’s latest musings if you are in any doubt about this). But this, it turns out, gives it significant common cause with the UK, which has long wanted to wrestle power away from Brussels. Not only that, but the UK and Germany – as the Union’s two biggest destinations for migrants – have more in common than one might think regarding the fully-loaded costs associated with the EU’s freedom of movement principle. Actually, in this regard, the European Court of Justice’s 2014 ruling on migrant benefits probably already gives the UK government most of what it needs with respect to resolving the issue to its satisfaction. In actual fact, I’m coming round to the view that the whole migration issue has become something of a red herring in the Treaty renegotiation: the truth being that most UK concerns have already been met (anyone who remembers the TV show Yes Minister might think of this as the Euro-sausage non-problem!).
As for Poland and Donald Tusk, well the National Bank of Poland Governor – Mr. Belka – said recently that Poland would never want to join a ‘burning’ Eurozone. Unfortunately for Poland, that’s exactly what the current EU Treaties say that it should be doing. Poland isn’t the only non-Euro country in the EU not to want to be obligated by Treaty to move to the Euro, by the way: Sweden, Denmark & Bulgaria don’t much fancy it either.
And try these three additional ideas for size if you think that anything else might be needed to sweeten the next EU Treaty deal for all the aforementioned parties:
- UK Conservative MEPs moving back to the EPP fold in the next European Parliament. It’s a move that would simultaneously please Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Tusk and the next French President (assuming a Republican victory). With his referendum sewn up, Mr. Cameron would hardly want to continue to be associated with the AfD in Germany, would he now?
- A second term as European Council President for Donald Tusk in mid-2017 (just as the UK takes on the Presidency of the Council of the EU) if he plays his part in moving towards Treaty change by mid-2017 (witness what happened to Mr. Dijsselbloem recently, if you don’t believe that horse-trading like this can possibly happen in the EU). I know there was a lot else going on at that last European Council summit in July, but Mr. Tusk did let Mr. Cameron make his ‘reform’ presentation in the end, didn’t he?
- If there are four people in the EU who would be happy to see EU Commission President Juncker’s wings clipped, it just so happens they are David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk & Nicolas Sarkozy, all of who have variously had issues with his Presidency of the Commission.
Europe’s trouble-makers are less likely to be in the UK by 2017 than in France or Italy
Actually, if there’s a big barrier to the next EU Treaty change in the EU, it’s much more likely to be France than the UK, and even though the latest soundings from Paris appear favourable. Will it be the turn of France to play hardest to get at the next Treaty change? Or will it be Italy’s turn, on account of the lack of enough movement towards Political Union?
Has the heaviest-lifting for the next EU Treaty already been done?
For what it’s worth, I am coming to the view that the same four key players in the last, abortive Treaty change – Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Tusk & Mr. Sarkozy – have not only buried the hatchet with respect to that particular debacle, but actually that – unbeknownst to most –they’ve already sewn up the biggest issues associated with the next Treaty change, at least at a political level.
As for the UK’s desire to see ‘ever closer union’ revert to the past tense as opposed to the future tense, what did you really think that there were two European treaties for, if not for a big of ambiguity when needed?!