Monday, February 18, 2013

MEPs endorse EU renegotiation (as long as it is on their terms)

This afternoon EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy appeared in front of MEPs to give his account of the deal struck by national leaders on the EU's next long-term budget. MEPs, many of whom have strongly resisted any budgetary discipline at the EU level were far from happy. Below are some reactions from the speakers on behalf of the four largest groups in the parliament.

Joseph Daul - European People's Party

Hannes Swoboda - Socialists and Democrats
Guy Verhofstadt - Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
Isabelle Durant - Greens
So a pretty united front - so much for pluralism and diversity in the EP (although Martin Callanan of the ECR - the fifth largest group - did broadly welcome the deal). We can only imagine what MEPs from Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU, Fredrik Reinfeld's Moderaterna, Helle Thorning-Schmidt's Social Democrats (and even Ed Miliband's Labour party which backed a cut in the HoC vote) or Mark Rutte's VVD must have made of their group leaders' speeches.

The full-throated desire of many MEPs to renegotiate what they see as a bad deal is also noteworthy as they tend to be the same people who can be counted upon to strike down any talk of national parliaments and/or governments from trying to get a better deal at the EU level as being not only impossible to achieve but also 'anti-European' by its very nature.

10 comments:

Jesper said...

http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/imported/meps-threaten-to-derail-budget-deal/76416.aspx

"The decisions of the government leaders have political significance, but no legal standing, he argued, and EU leaders have “encroached on the powers of the European Parliament given [to it] by the [Treaty of] Lisbon”. "

Legal and institutional mess. The showdown will be informative. Who will be humbled? The ones who believe the European Union is a union of sovereign states or the ones who believe it to be a federation ruled by the EP?

SaltireSyd said...

It's simply and foremost a union of separate states and do NOT forget that ! We the taxpayers will decide how much you can spend through our sovereign parliaments and if you lot think otherwise, then there will be at least 1 less member country (along with the copious taxes it pays into your coffers) ! Be warned !!

jon livesey said...

If EU MEPs tend to see trying to moderate budget increases as intrinsically "anti-European", then I think that tells you everything you need to know about MEPs.

They are people who are living in an isolated goldfish bowl, and who share a belief that "more Europe" is automatically a good thing, no matter what more Europe does to the taxpayer.

Rik said...

We first have to see what exact are the problems they have with the budget.
1. allocation (should be more R&D); or
2. total amount too low;
3. both.
And for basically the whole EP or for certain parties.
Some are positive others negative, again others mixed.

Depending of that governments will make up the following strategy.
1. Support;
2. War;
3. mixture/negotiations focussed on pushing it towards 1..

Anyway the EP are playing this mainly with the focus of putting themselves on the map (or not to be pushed off). Which is a very weak point for them.
Their long term strategic target should be imho is getting a platform/credibility/real democratic legitimation with the respective populations, as their existence depends on that. They look to focuss however as said simply to put themselves on the map (period). Even if other targets are neglected or even harmed. As will be here. They simply look like burocrats that are only interested in their own position. Which will not make you very popular with the main stream voter.

For the UK this gives the following oportunities.
-if they focuss mainly on the allocation. It is a positive and could work as part of the lever to change totally outdated policies like CAP. Which is at the end of the day one of the problems the UK has with it as well.
-if it is mainly EP profiling (combined with a substantial increase of the budget). It looks a very safe bet to go simply for the confrontation. They never will win that on in the eye of UK public opinion. Even if they get their 2% extra it would simply show that they are burocrats gone wild and would give Cameron the platform at home to go in with a stretched leg (which is likely necessary anyway somewhere in the whole process to get a proper result).
Timing is important best a hard attack should be done when the Euro crisis starts to play up again. Like now in effect.
A confrontation also has the advantage that it could be the trigger to redefine the EPs position which is in the UKs interest. Not a second parliament doing all kind of 'nice' (but costly) things, nobody asked for, to put themselves on the map, but as a tool to make Europe more efficient and competitive.

Denis Cooper said...

Jesper -

I'm not prepared to pay to read the whole of that article in European Voice, but the part you have quoted is extraordinary.

Article 312 TFEU, starting on page 182 here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2010:083:0047:0200:EN:PDF

is perfectly clear that the Council and the Parliament must both agree to the proposed MFF, therefore each has a veto.

It's true that the meeting attended by Cameron on February 7/8 was a meeting of the European Council, not the Council.

So, yes, it is true that the agreement of the European Council has "no legal standing" in terms of Article 312 TFEU, and indeed the Conclusions describe it as a "political agreement":

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/135344.pdf

"6. The European Council has reached political agreement that the maximum total figure for expenditure for EU 28 for the period 2014-2020 is EUR 959 988 million in appropriations for commitments, representing 1.00% of EU GNI and EUR 908 400 million in appropriations for payments representing 0.95% of the EU GNI."

However I can't see how the EU heads of state or government have “encroached on the powers of the European Parliament" by agreeing what directions they shall give to their subordinate ministers on the Council.

Jesper said...

Denis,

thanks. What you say makes sense. I've been trying to get my head around how the process will work in practice.

Others who might be interested might find this informative:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/special-reports/mff/2-tracks

What I found to be the most important was this quote:
"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." (with all involved)

Some MEPs have used very strong statements regarding the MFF. Either they'll back down or they'll fight. If the MEPs back down they'll have acknowledged the superior power of the sovereigns, if they fight and win (even a little) then we know that we have in fact a federation.

I'm guessing they'll not back down.

Denis Cooper said...

Once again I would point out that there is no current MFF under the terms of Article 312 TFEU.

That was a completely new article introduced into the EU treaties through the Treaty of Lisbon which only came into force on December 1st 2009, and therefore it has never been used before.

So if an MFF is eventually agreed then it will be the first under Article 312 TFEU, all the previous multi-year budget plans having been agreements between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council which had no legal basis in the treaties in force at the time and were not part of EU law.

The member states long ago gave the institutions a general instruction to practise "sincere co-operation", and in 2001 they annexed a relevant Declaration 3 to the Final Act of their Nice Treaty, starting on page 77 here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2001:080:0001:0087:EN:PDF

"3. Declaration on Article 10 of the Treaty establishing the European Community

The Conference recalls that the duty of sincere cooperation which derives from Article 10 of the Treaty establishing the European Community and governs relations between the Member States and the Community institutions also governs relations between the Community institutions themselves. In relations between those institutions, when it proves necessary, in the context of that duty of sincere cooperation, to facilitate the application of the provisions of the Treaty establishing the European Community, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission may conclude interinstitutional agreements. Such agreements may not amend or supplement the provisions of the Treaty and may be concluded only with the agreement of these three institutions."

So it would probably be going too far to claim that the three institutions had acted unlawfully by making interinstitutional agreements on multi-year budget plans - they could argue that they were performing their general duty of "sincere cooperation, and merely "pushing the envelope" on what that meant, and with a quiet nod of approval from the member state governments through their political Declaration 3 in 2001, and so they felt they could do it even though there was nothing in the treaties that specifically conferred upon them the power to do it.

Denis Cooper said...

Continued ...

But on the other hand it remains the case that there was no legal basis in the treaties for them to do so until another completely new article was introduced through the Lisbon Treaty, Article 295 TFEU:

"The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall consult each other and by common agreement make arrangements for their cooperation. To that end, they may, in compliance with the Treaties, conclude interinstitutional agreements which may be of a binding nature."

Clearly somebody was sufficiently concerned about the precise legal status of interinstitutional agreements to think that it should be clarified in the treaties, or why bother including that treaty change among so many others in the Lisbon Treaty?

(And it would, incidentally, be an example of the kind of treaty change that Hague would no doubt say fell within the first exemption he put into his "referendum lock" law, that no referendum would be required if a treaty change only involved:

"the codification of practice under TEU or TFEU in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence".

Again and again it happens that something is done without a legal basis in the treaties, and then later the treaties are changed to provide a legal basis for what is already being done.)

Even now the question remains: if these three EU institutions may make interinstitutional agreements "of a binding nature", who is then bound by them?

And if it came about that British MPs were asked to authorise payments of British taxpayers' money to the EU in the absence of an agreed seven-year MFF, should they consider themselves bound by the terms of the May 17th 2006 "InterInstitutional Agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on budgetary discipline and sound financial management"?

In 2006 there was no legal basis for any such agreement in the EU treaties that MPs had approved through Acts; MPs would be asked to approve an MFF through an Act, but as far as I can discover they were never asked to approve that 2006 agreement through an Act; so on that basis why should they treat it as an agreement that they are obliged to respect?

Denis Cooper said...

Jesper -

These jumped-up eurofederalists should be constantly reminded that their assembly is not a sovereign body, but merely an institution created by the sovereign member states through their treaties as approved by their national parliaments, and merely exercising powers delegated by the sovereign member states.

That has always been the case, the original six EEC member states having agreed through Article 4 of their 1957 Treaty of Rome:

"The tasks entrusted to the Community shall be carried out by the following institutions:

an ASSEMBLY

a COUNCIL,

a COMMISSION,

a COURT OF JUSTICE.

Each institution shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty."

And that is still the case, which is why the member states still decide where it shall sit and how many members it shall have, and then when they get themselves into a legal pickle over the numbers they quietly agree a new protocol to their treaties to allow three surplus Germans to keep their seats:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2010:263:FULL:EN:PDF

Although the EU Parliament had to be consulted during the process of adopting that protocol, the final decision rested fairly and squarely with the representatives of the sovereign member states, the "High Contracting Parties", meeting in a short conference on the margins of a meeting of the European Council to agree a protocol to their treaties, subject to ratification "in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements".

Which in the case of UK meant primary legislation, smuggled through as Part 2 of the "referendum lock" law, the European Union Act 2011:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/12/part/2

Maybe one day the governments of the member states will come to their senses and agree to another protocol that entirely abolished the EU Parliament, which they could certainly still do, but that is very unlikely to happen while so many of those governments are themselves dominated by eurofederalists.

Including of course the UK government, although they have to pretend otherwise to placate UK public opinion.

Jesper said...

Denis,

you've explained and clarified it very well, thank you.

My personal view is that having a parliament without a country is a much worse idea than having a central bank without a country.

On a lighter note:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/content/20110429FCS18370/html/The-battle-for-the-EU%27s-long-term-budget

"MEPS have also stressed the need to have an agreement on the EU's own resources so that it is able to raise more income independently and contributions by member states can be reduced."

How can the EP raise more income independently? Unless they talk about going out, work for a wage and donate the wage to the EU budget they are not raising income independently they are simply suggesting to tax the citizens of the EU in a different way.

Or maybe, just maybe they've started thinking about the saying: A penny saved is a penny earned :-)