Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, is pressing for changes to the EU’s treaties that would go beyond the bare minimum to shore up the eurozone. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), this week called for an elected European Commission president and for the right of legislative initiative to be given to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
“The task of our generation is to complete economic union, and to build political union in Europe, step by step,” she told the CDU’s annual congress.
Government leaders are to discuss ways of improving economic discipline at the next European Council on 9 December. But moves to deepen economic integration have awakened fears of a two-speed Europe in which countries outside the eurozone would be marginalised.
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Poland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers, is preparing a paper on relations between the 17 members of the eurozone and the remaining ten EU member states to be put to a meeting of ministers for EU affairs on 5 December.
A senior EU diplomat said that concerns about the “growing distance” between the 17 members of the eurozone and the ten outside would have to be addressed.
Diplomats said there were particular worries that Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, would try to create a more closely knit group outside the current EU treaty structures. “There will be a very serious French push for a treaty only for the 17,” the diplomat said.
Sarkozy said in a speech earlier this month that closer economic integration among eurozone members was essential, as the EU would expand to more than 30 members when it took in countries from the Balkans. “There will not be a single currency without an increase in economic integration and convergence. That is what we are moving towards,” Sarkozy said.
But France and Germany are at odds over whether and how to create an “inner core”.
Diplomats say that Germany is opposed to French suggestions to set up a new group outside the treaties because it would cement divisions in the current EU.
Countries that are currently outside the euro, including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, are worried that they would lose influence if a core of eurozone countries were created.
Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said yesterday that talk about a two-speed Europe was “exaggerated”. “It is time to de-dramatise this debate,” he said. He said it was “perfectly natural” that countries with a common currency took decisions together, which was “a perfectly normal part of our current institutional arrangements”.
Diplomats say there is widespread concern about Germany’s insistence that there must be treaty change because approving a new treaty would be very difficult in some member states.
“There’s a huge amount of scepticism from the rest of the eurozone about the desirability and deliverability of treaty change,” said one senior EU diplomat.
Treaty change would probably require approval by referendums in countries such as Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Van Rompuy is not convinced that treaty change is essential. Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday (16 November), he said: “It is my intention to examine the ‘what’ before the ‘how’: we should examine the goals [and] only afterwards the legal instruments required to get there, including limited treaty changes, should these prove necessary.” He said that “a lot can be done within the treaties”.
Van Rompuy said he would present an interim report on any required changes in December and finalise a full report by March or June 2012.