EUOBSERVER / AGENDA - A European summit tops the agenda next week (13-19 December), with EU leaders set to agree a limited EU treaty change in order to set up a permanent rescue mechanism for countries in financial difficulty.
While governments insist financial support for Greece and Ireland is not in breach of the treaty's 'no bail-out' clause, German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to be wary of her country's constitutional court, with several legal challenges currently ongoing.
To end future legal uncertainty, EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (16-17 December) are expected to agree new language to be inserted into the EU rulebook, although the exact phrasing is still being negotiated.
Germany is keen that future handouts from a permanent crisis fund, set to take over from the temporary European Financial Stability Facility in mid 2013, should also include terms that force private sector investors to share the costs.
Foreign affairs ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday (13-14) under various formats will prepare the summit's draft conclusions. They are also expected to endorse a draft regulation to set up the European Citizens' Initiative, a new petition procedure allowing citizens to call for EU action in a particular area.
A range of enlargement issues and the EU's 2020 growth strategy are also on the agenda, with EU high representative Catherine Ashton and EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule scheduled to participate in a Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Also on the agenda for Monday, foreign ministers will discuss developments in a range of different trouble-spots across the globe, including Sudan, the Middle East, Somalia, Côte d'Ivoire, Afghanistan and Iran.
EU fishery ministers will role up their sleeves for the annual cat-fight on Monday over who gets to plunder what from Europe's increasingly depleted seas. Electoral pressure means ministers typically agree TACs and Quotas in excess of scientific recommendations.
MEPs sitting in plenary in Strasbourg next week (13-16 December) are also likely to vote in support of the European Citizens' Initiative, with a second big vote on next year's EU budget set to take place Wednesday (15 December).
A dispute between member states and the European Parliament over next year's budget has rumbled on for several months, but a series of 11th-hour compromises has enabled the parliamentary vote next week before MEPs jet off on their holidays.
Also on Wednesday, parliament's human rights award - the Sakharov Prize - is scheduled to be awarded to this year's winner, Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, although doubts remain over whether Mr Farinas will be allowed to travel to Strasbourg.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has written to Cuban President Raúl Castro, asking him to sanction the journey. "Remember that they consider us to be 21st Century slaves without freedom of movement," Mr Farinas said of the Cuban regime in October, while speaking to EUobserver by phone.
MEPs will also vote on tougher rules to combat human trafficking, as well as a new European Protection Order which would enable victims of crime who are granted protection in one member state to potentially get similar protection if they move to another.
Finally, on Thursday (16 December) EU social affairs commissioner László Andor will unveil a new flagship initiative to fight poverty. Member states agreed earlier this year to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and exclusion by 2020.