Treaty reform: over and done with…at last

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Last week’s treaty summit may mark the end of an entire phase of the European integration process in which progress has chiefly been made through institutional “giant leaps forward”, argues a post-summit analysis from the European Policy Centre (EPC).

The 22 October paper remarks that leaders appear determined to “move on” following the lengthy reform process, and are seeking parliamentary approval instead of referenda on the new treaty wherever possible. 

The EPC highlight the main results of the treaty agreement: 

  • A five-year suspension of infringement proceedings against Austria over the application of quotas for foreign students at its medical schools. 
  • Bulgaria won the right to call the EU single currency ‘evro’. 
  • A “largely symbolic” redistribution of seats between Spain, France, Italy and the UK for the 2009-14 European Parliament. 
  • Poland’s demand for the ‘Ioannina compromise’ on delaying decisions was satisfied in a special Protocol, which is “reasonable and workable”. 
  • Poland was given the same right as Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain to have a permanent Advocate-General in the European Court of Justice. 
  • Parliament will have a say in the appointment of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. 

Regarding the Polish election result, the EPC paper believes that the new government will “play a more constructive role inside the EU” and diffuse tensions with Russia by toning down the rhetoric on meat exports and postponing a decision on missile defence. 

The paper predicts that with the posts of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, President of the European Parliament, Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Head of the WTO all available at roughly the same time, June 2009 will be “a big horse-trading jamboree”. 

The EPC believes that personalities will be of great importance in the top jobs, with the boundaries between the Council president, Commission president and High Representative “anything but clear” in the new treaty. 

The paper concludes that the new treaty is the “best possible institutional deal that could have been reached in the current circumstances” and its provisions are unlikely to be altered for a long time, meaning that the EU can now concentrate on issues of substance, symbolised by EU leaders’ rapid shift to policy discussions on the summit’s final day. 

Moreover, the opt-outs signify a return to the “variable geometry” notion of European integration, it adds. 

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