EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Member states are considering taking the EU Parliament to court if it does not back down on demands for new powers on EU foreign policy and international agreements, EUobserver has learnt.
Ambassadors representing member states at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (13 October) signaled their discontent over an inter-institutional agreement between the European Commission and the EU legislature which may give fresh powers to euro-deputies, especially when it comes to international negotiations on behalf of the EU.
The draft report, according to an analysis by the council of ministers' legal services, could lead to a stand-off between EU institutions if adopted as such next week in Strasbourg.
"The court option is not off the table," one EU source said.
Ambassadors will come back to the matter in their meeting next Wednesday, following the MEP's vote in the plenary.
The crux of the matter is to what extent MEPs can be part of EU delegations to multilateral and bilateral meetings and negotiations with other countries. According to the draft, the Parliament wants to have its representatives guaranteed participation in all multilateral, but also bilateral agreements "of particular political importance" - for instance on trade or fisheries.
The EU commission for its part is ready to allow MEPs on board of EU delegations, whenever "logistically, politically and diplomatically" possible.
There would be no automatism, however. The commission wants to avoid situations such as the climate change summit in Copenhagen last December, when 106 MEPs were part of the EU team, which made it virtually impossible for the head of the delegation to have an overview over what is being said and done on behalf of the EU.
The commission's position is being further complicated by the council's own bid to push a role for the rotating EU presidency in international negotiations - for instance on climate change - despite the Lisbon Treaty clearly stating that the commission is to lead negotiations in the name of the 27 strong bloc.
Portuguese centre-right MEP Paulo Rangel, the euro-deputy in charge of formulating the Parliament's standpoint, was not surprised by the council's opposition.
"There is no problem with the EU commission, the problem is in the Council, they didn't want to participate in negotiations of the inter-institutional agreement. So it was expected they would have reservations, because normally the Council doesn't see happily that other institutions are co-operating," Mr Rangel told EUobserver over the phone from Madeira.
He does not believe that member states will actually take the Parliament to court, but says they are trying to limit the new powers MEPs have acquired in the new treaty.
"Every institution interprets in its own way their new powers given by the Lisbon Treaty and tries to maximise their positions. I don't think this means there is a conflict within the institutions," he said.
"In every state, international organisation, not to mention the EU, the Parliament has the power to control or review the external policy of the executive bodies. It doesn't mean we want to lead negotiations on external relation, but we do have the right to control the way they exercise these powers. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has the right to approve international agreements and we need all the information necessary to this aim," he argued.
Mr Rangel insisted that MEPs are not trying to take over competences of national governments in the field of foreign affairs: "We follow only foreign policy that is in the hands of the EU, there is no interference in the national dominion of external relations."
The fact that another major foreign policy package - regarding the set-up of the EU's External Action Service (EEAS) - is due to be adopted next week is a "mere coincidence" and the two issues are not linked, he added.
Some room for maneouvre still remains, but it will be up to political leaders in Parliament to negotiate, he added.
In a speech on Wednesday, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso stressed the "special partnership" between his institution and the EU legislature and referred to the upcoming signature of the framework agreement in Strasbourg next week. " Let us not miss the opportunity to make it a powerful demonstration of this new partnership spirit," he said.