EU treaty rewrite bid hits obstacles

25th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

German and French moves to force a risky rewrite of the European Union's hard-fought Lisbon treaty and tighten budgetary discipline among member states hit obstacles on Monday.

Criticism mounted of a deal brokered a week ago by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy while Germany's foreign minister pointed to some tough talking in the run-up to an EU summit starting on Thursday.

"We can't deny that there are divergent opinions within the EU," said Germany's Guido Westerwelle, adding that "very intensive" discussions would take place in the days and hours before the summit.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government's position, which is to oppose any transfer of powers from London to Brussels, "is well-known."

He too said that "discussions will take place over the next few days."

Diplomats have expressed fears that member states could come to the summit armed with lengthy shopping lists.

The Lisbon treaty, implementing many changes and reforms, only came into force late last year after an eight-year battle, sparked when French and Dutch voters rejected an ambitious EU constitution.

Ireland then threw it out in a first referendum before a positive second vote left a final holdout, ultra eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus, with little choice but to sign it.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said no-one should assume that even a tweak to the treaty's rules, as France and Germany sometimes present the changes, would pass easily.

"In this world, anything is possible ... but it's not very likely," Schwarzenberg said on arrival for the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg focused on future Serbian accession and a possible change in policy towards Cuba.

The French-German deal "leaves a bad taste" for other EU states that feel they are being told what to do, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

Not only because Berlin and Paris appear to be dictating EU requirements, but because "there is a risk that we will be plunged back into months and years of navel-gazing," Asselborn added.

Germany will only make permanent its lion's share contribution to a three-year fund of emergency loans for struggling eurozone countries if the EU treaty is changed, otherwise it fears its constitutional court in Karlsruhe will block the move.

The trillion-dollar fund, once IMF and EU contributions are added to eurozone states' input, came about because of widespread fears of contagion following the Greek debt crisis, which saw markets punish Athens with ferociously high rates for state borrowings.

Berlin also wants the treaty changed to enshrine tougher rules for countries that overspend, including a mooted provision to remove voting rights from the most serious offenders.

Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb stressed that "at the end of the day, as long as the rules are tight, I'm happy."

However, he warned that the process is not exclusively in the hands of states, underlining that the European Parliament wants "much tougher" changes introduced.

"The fun hasn't even begun yet," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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