There are years of institutional reflection ahead and this will be a heavy strain on the day-to-day work of the European Union. Our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude wonders – will anything else get done?
The Council of Ministers of the European Union, the new European Parliament from June and the new European Commission from later in the year face a crippling agenda. A year ago, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he detected a widespread wish for reform. He declared that he intended to work towards a “new settlement” between the EU and the United Kingdom. He embarked on a ‘balance of competences’ review. The outcome is expected to show what the UK would want to see changed. The results of the review are eagerly awaited.
Meantime, Britain has gone ahead with restrictions on EU immigrant access to the country’s welfare system. There will probably be more on this subject in the wish list. The other declared intention is to cut out the mantra ‘ever closer union’. Separately, the British government is using a provision in the Lisbon Treaty that enables it to opt out of regulations on freedom, security and justice while opting back in to some of them – for example, police co-operation.
Whether the intended changes are to be UK opt-outs from regulations considered damaging or whether they will envisage treaty changes affecting all members – or a mixture of both – is as yet unknown. Whatever the new settlement includes, it will not be enough for a group of the British government’s supporters who want the powers of the union to be cut back in addition to parliamentary approval for new regulations.
They make a false parallel with Germany, where the constitutional court does not consider the merits of regulatory proposals but only whether they respect the constitution. If they do not, the German parliament must vote on them. This is a hard act to follow for a country without a written constitution.
The euro group of members also have a long agenda. They recognise that their monetary union is only a beginning and that the economic crisis has revealed its weaknesses. They want to integrate fiscal policies including fixed rules and central oversights. Non-members have two apprehensions. First ‘spillover’ – the euro regime might expressly or insidiously be extended to them against their wishes. Second, a ‘euro bloc’ bent on strengthening its cohesion by voting together in the Council of Ministers on subjects other than its internal arrangements.
What, if anything, happens under the Greek Presidency is only a first hesitant step. There are years of reflection ahead. This will be a heavy strain on the day-to-day work of the union. One wonders, will anything else get done?