EU might treat itself to treaty change

December 8, 2011

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Robin Emmott

French statesman Charles De Gaulle once famously said “Treaties are like roses and young girls — they last while they last.” Germany seems to have decided that the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, which only entered into force after a fair amount of upheaval in December 2009, has lost its perfumes and must be reworked to ensure the euro zone’s debt crisis can never be repeated.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s proposal to modify the treaty via a little-known section called protocol 12 has so far been unable to convince German government officials, who warned against a “bad compromise” of small steps or “little tricks.”

Van Rompuy’s sense is that changes to the protocol, which would strengthen legislation to prevent countries running up big budget deficits, could be agreed quickly and send a message to investors that the euro zone is embarking along a path to bring back confidence and resolve its crisis.

But given the critical hour, has anyone in Berlin really considered all the treaty changes and protocol adjustments the EU would really have to implement if there’s to be full fiscal union? It’s a daunting prospect. Andrew Duff, a member of the European Parliament, has identified 29 articles and protocols that would need to be overhauled – and that’s assuming the European Parliament, eurosceptic Britain and others don’t come forward with a host of other demands.

But even if that all went smoothly, there’s the ratification process. In Belgium alone, a treaty change of the magnitude of the Lisbon treaty would need to be approved by nine parliamentary bodies, for example the Flemish and Walloon parliaments, the parliament of the German community and the parliament of the capital, Brussels, which is itself subdivided into a French and bilingual assembly.

It’s something of a relief to know, then, that in Belgium, unlike in Ireland, a referendum is not a constitutional requirement on treaty change.

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