Auteur: | By Freddie Gjertsen
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REPRESENTATIVES TO THE I.G.C. THE SECRETARIAT
Brussels, 18 May 2004
Subject: Summary of the IGC-meeting at ministerial level of 17 May 2004-05-18
Two documents were circulated before the meeting:
-document CIG 76/04, containing draft texts on which broad consensus is likely;
-document CIG 75/04, containing more controversial issues.
Minister Cowen proposed to focus on document CIG 75/04 and therefore suggested the following discussion order:
-17.05. am: part I of document CIG 75/04
-18.05. am: part II and III of document CIG 75/04
-lunch 18.05.: all remaining issues including definition of QMV and distribution of seats of the EP, as well as remarks on CIG 76/04 if time allows.
17.05. Document CIG 75/04 Part I
Team Presidency (Annex 1 and 2) (Article I 23 and Article 1-4)
A majority of delegations expressed a clear preference for option 2 (each member state in turn chairing all formations for a six-month period "with assistance of the other member states in the team"), or showed openness to it. Few delegations expressed their preference for option 3 (general rotation), and an even smaller minority for option 1.
A broad consensus was reached on the need to ensure the flexibility of the Presidency rotation system by allowing the decision on its organisation to be taken by QMV. A very small minority expressed their position in favour of unanimity in this respect.
Minister Cowen concluded that there seems to be a broad agreement on the functioning of the Presidency on a team-basis, on the need to foresee in the Constitution some provisions both regarding the principles of the rotating presidency and allowing some flexibility for its evolution, as well as on the role of the Union Foreign Affairs Minister and the General Affairs Council. The Presidency will circulate a final proposal.
Minister Cowen then moved to annexes 3, 4, 6 and 7 of part I (putting apart the discussion on annex 5 - explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights).
Multiannual financial and budgetary procedure (Annex 3) (Article I-54)
The text of the Presidency modifies paragraph 4 of article I-54, in order to make it clear that unanimity is kept for the first MFF adopted after the signature of the Constitution. The "bridging clause" suggested by the Italian Presidency that would allow the Council, deciding by QMV, to retain unanimity for the MFF adopted after this one is dropped. Anyway, the Presidency is aware that some member states would still prefer to go back to the rule of unanimity, with a "bridging clause" allowing for a future passage to QMV. This could eventually be connected with a declaration stating that the "passerelle" would only be used when a satisfactory decision on Own Resources was envisaged.
Most of the delegations, as well as the Commission and Parliament insisted in retaining the agreement reached in the Convention: unanimity for the first MFF after the adoption of the Convention, QMV afterwards. Some of these delegations insisted that this was already the result of a compromise. Parliament stressed also that this question should be considered as a part of overall system of financial provisions adopted by the Convention and that the heavy decision procedure chosen for own resources should help member states to evacuate their fears of QMV for the MFF.
A significant minority, however, rejects this approach and considers that unanimity must be kept the rule, eventually accompanied by a "passerelle" for a later passage to QMV. One member states considers this question to be a "red line" that it would not be ready to cross.
Some delegations also rejected any link between this question and the problem of own resources.
The Presidency concluded that it would continue the reflection on this matter, at the close of the discussions.
Budget (Annex 4) (Article III-310)
The Presidency explained that it maintain the reviewed text based on the proposal of the Italian Presidency, but is aware that several delegations oppose it and still defend the "tie-break" mechanism.
In consequence, the Presidency is ready to envisage a further compromise proposal in order to satisfy those who wish reinforce the balance between the two institutions in the procedure, although it recognises that the whole of the financial provisions have to be considered to strike an adequate balance, and that the role of the EP cannot be further weakened. Perhaps a line for consensus could be to modify the text of the Italian Presidency so that in case of a failure of the negotiations in the Conciliation Committee a new budget should be proposed by the Commission.
Some delegations seem to prefer the present text of the Presidency, but many would welcome the compromise envisaged by the Presidency, although some of these declared that they would only welcome a compromise if the EP could accept it.
The "tie-break" is still preferred by a minority of delegations, although some of these indicated that they could consider the compromise indicated by the Presidency.
The Commission supports the text of the Presidency, but could accept a compromise as outlined by the Presidency if the EP can accept it. Fundamentally, it opposes any "tie-break" mechanism, for it would eliminate any kind of political negotiation between the two branches of the budgetary authority.
The EP reminded that the institutional balance could not be evaluated considering only the budgetary procedure: the Member Stares decide exclusively on the own resources; the EP can only say yes or no to the MFF; so, the Parliament must have a real capacity of decision on the budget, if the balance is to be maintained. Besides, MS should consider that the EP would be so limited by the MFF that its margin of intervention in fixing the budget would be very small. Any further limitation of its capacity on budgetary matters would be unacceptable.
The Presidency announced that it will continue to explore the possibilities of a compromise on the basis of the lines expressed above and admits to present a new proposal on that sense.
Excessive deficit procedure (Annex 6) (Article III 76 12)
A significant number of member states expressed their reluctance regarding the Netherlands initiative aiming at introducing into the Constitution specific provisions for actions before the ECJ in this respect. Such provisions could only be admitted as far as they strictly stick to procedural aspects.
If such provisions were to be introduced, the Commission insisted on a very cautious drafting.
The Netherlands, supported by only one Member state, defended its position in favour of substantial control by the ECJ of any infringement of the excessive deficit procedure.
Common Commercial Policy (Annex 7) (Article III-217)
The Presidency's text has proposed a significant reduction of the scope of QMV for the conclusion of international agreements, in comparison to the Convention's text, with the intention of taking into account the concerns expressed by some member states regarding cultural, educational and health services.
To address these concerns without altering the QMV application field, the Commission proposed orally at the recent focal points meeting an amendment to article III-217 6 which would ensure that competencies of member states in these fields cannot be affected by an international agreement.
It seems that a majority of delegations could stomach this amendment, even if some of them would have preferred to retain unanimity. A minority of member states insisted on reducing the scope of QMV as it would result from the Presidency's proposal, or even to expressly apply unanimity.
Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Annex 5)
Minister Cowen invited delegations to express their views in this respect.
One delegation insisted that the Charter had been negotiated as a political document, and that if it is to now become part of the Constitution, there is a need to review, especially, its possible influence on the distribution of competencies between the Union and the member states.
This statement was strongly opposed by two other delegations who insisted that all these concerns had already been largely taken on board at the time the Charter had been negotiated.
Overall discussions on the scope of QMV/unanimity in the fields of judicial cooperation in criminal matters; European Public Prosecutor's office; CFSP; taxation; Social security; Own resources;
The Presidency insisted on the need to deal with this question as a global package. Therefore the following presentation topic by topic of the position of the various delegations is only proposed for the ease of reference. Minister Cowen otherwise pointed out that there is not yet a "Presidency's proposal" and that the submitted texts are the so-called "Post-Naples" versions.
Home and Justice Affairs
A small majority seems to support the post-Naples text, providing for an "emergency brake" in the hands of the European Council which could be used without time limit as a veto. This is still strongly fought by a significant minority of delegations, which express themselves in favour of the Convention's text (QMV) and could only accept the emergency brake if a certain time limit is attached.
European Public Prosecutor's office
Three member states support the Convention's compromise (widen remit and creation by unanimous decision of the EPPO) while two others state that there is no need for an EPPO at all.
A minority of the other delegations defends the post-Naples text (restricted remit and creation by unanimous decision).
Most of the delegations do not take clear positions on this subject.
Taxation / Social security
Delegations tend to deal with these two subjects together, though the social security issue is also related to judicial cooperation in criminal matters through the question of emergency brake (introduced by the post-Naples text).
Some countries insist on retaining in this area even more unanimity than foreseen in the post-Naples proposals. Very few declare themselves ready to support the post-Naples text (QMV in taxation field even more restricted than according to the Convention's compromise, and emergency brake without time-limit for social security), but no greater number defend the Convention's text (QMV for social security, particularly for migrant workers, and a bit less unanimity for taxation than in the present situation).
Common and Foreign Security Policy
In this matter, the Convention's text -foreseeing QMV only when a decision is to be taken on the basis of a proposal of the European Foreign Affairs Minister asked by the European Council - took a more restrictive approach of QMV than the subsequent post-Naples proposal (QMV for decisions taken on the initiative of the Minister).
A significant number of member states then support a move backwards to the Convention's text, but a seemingly equally significant number support, in this respect, the post-Naples proposal.
Only two member states consider that unanimity should rather prevail generally in this matter.
Own resources system
Only two Member States defend the extension of unanimity, one Member State announces that keeping the already restricted scope provided by the Convention for QMV is absolutely essential ("redline"). Most of the delegations do not express themselves clearly.
Bridging clause towards QMV in enhanced cooperation
The Convention's text offered this possibility, subsequently deleted in the post-Naples proposal. There seem to be an equal repartition of the delegations between one camp and the other.
The European Parliament representatives pleaded strongly in favour of QMV (against a emergency brake, and especially if there is no time limit).
Minister Cowen concluded -with caution- that there seem to be especially strong views in fiscal and related matters which could be the limit to the consensual objective of extending QMV, that the Convention's text in QMV seemed to have found the right balance, as well as in JHA matters -provided the specificities of common law are taken into account- and the reintroduction of the bridging clause in QMV seemed reasonable.
Composition of the Commission
The Presidency stressed that the debate on this question is only aimed at gathering some elements to see if and in which direction an agreement at a later stage could be envisaged. Responding to the preoccupation of many delegations (a few delegations even refused to enter into substantial discussion), the Presidency stressed that this question would be a part of the global package on the institutional questions and would not be treated separately.
Some conclusions of the short debate:
-a consensus is almost reached in the sense that for a initial period of time (a clear majority leaning for a period until 2014) there will be one Commissioner per member state;
-if a reduced Commission will be the option for afterwards, the principle of strictly equal rotation must be guaranteed;
A majority of delegations seems to accept the idea that after a period a reduced Commission should be in place. The proposal of a maximum number of Commissioners of 2/3 of the number of member states seems to be making headway.
Many delegations considered this proposal a good compromise to ensure cohesion and efficiency on one side and legitimacy and representation on the other. Some delegations, however, still think that it will be possible to maintain one Commissioner per member state even after 2014. Namely, those delegations, consider that there are means of ensuring the efficiency of an enlarged Commission if there is the will to do so (national governments often have tenths of Members). Besides, they consider that the feeling of every member state that it is adequately represented in the college is essential to ensure the Commission's legitimacy and hence strength. Other delegations, as well as the Parliament and the Commission, stressed, however, that if the Commission is too big the portfolios will not all have the same importance, and the formal equality resulting from all member states having a Commissioner may be hampered in substance (in national governments there is a clear hierarchy...).
The Parliament also insisted in the need to ensure the authority of the President of the Commission, but there was no discussion on the new proposal for the nomination of the Commission proposed by the Presidency in article I-26, para 2.
The other amendments proposed by the Presidency concerning the double status of the Minister as a Member of the Commission and of the Council seemed to pose no problem. One delegation suggested that the Minister should be considered supernumerary and should not count for the rotation, but no other delegation supported it (some declared themselves clearly against).
It seems very likely that the Presidency will not present a formal text on this matter until the whole "institutional package" is more or less tied, which will presumably happen only very near the end of the negotiations.
Another IGC meeting at ministerial level is foreseen for Monday 24th May, from 2.30pm (confirmation awaited)