Europe

Viewpoints on EU treaty change and eurozone

The eurozone crisis has put treaty changes back on the EU's agenda - even though it took the bloc nearly a decade to get the Lisbon Treaty adopted.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel believes treaty changes are necessary to enforce budget discipline across the 27-nation EU and to stabilise the eurozone.

The treaty changes would also mean member states giving up more economic sovereignty - and that deepens the split between Eurosceptics and Euro-integrationists.

Any such changes would require the European Parliament's approval, so BBC News asked a group of MEPs for their views.

Maria Eleni Koppa (Greece), centre-left Socialists and Democrats

The proposed treaty changes for the EU should not be the focus of our attention.

The joint position of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament is clear: necessary steps can and should be taken in a timely, comprehensive and conclusive manner, within the scope of existing institutional frameworks and policy tools available.

There are at least three reasons for such a categorical statement.

First, there is no time. Member states see their [bond] spreads climbing, having outpaced once more our political capacity to respond. This is not a time for grand plans, but for swift responses and deliberations, of the kind we have not produced over the last two years.

Events so far have discredited the notion that the whole problem we are facing is moral and can thus be addressed by solutions seeking to rectify "moral hazards".

Secondly, Europe needs to listen carefully to the recent statement by the Polish foreign minister [about Germany]. In sum, because Germany benefits the most from existing arrangements, it stands to gain the most from their defence. The option of standing idle is, among other things, self-destructive.

Thirdly, no-one even slightly connected with political realities on the ground believes that this is the time and place to negotiate a new institutional framework for Europe. To quote Chancellor Merkel: "if the euro goes, then Europe goes".

Gay Mitchell (Republic of Ireland), centre-right European People's Party

Jean Monnet, one of the chief architects of the European Union, once predicted: "Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises". His vision was perceptive and accurate, and the current euro crisis may once again prove him right.

This is a challenging time for the euro, and as a true believer in the European project, I am confident that the EU and the euro will come out strengthened from this debt crisis.

Europe should not rule out the need for treaty changes. We should not forget that peace and stability are prerequisites to prosperity, and the EU through its treaties has helped preserve both.

The single currency needs greater fiscal and political union and more emphasis should be placed on the EU's "community method" of decision-making, rather than inter-governmental deals.

Every agreement which is treaty-based is subject to court sanction for a breach. This applies to large and small states. This is a better arrangement for smaller states than inter-governmentalism, where large member states can bend the rules. It is arguably best for all states, as the rules are clear to all.

Some people say Ireland lost its sovereignty on joining the EU. I say we were never truly sovereign until we joined. The EU has been a great opportunity for Ireland, and for most of our time as members we made the most of that opportunity. We can do so again. There is an Irish saying: "Ni neart go cur le cheile" (there is no strength without unity).

Sophie in 't Veld (Netherlands), centrist Liberal Democrat ALDE

After 10 years of political and legal wrangling, several and repeated referenda and cliffhanger ratification votes in national parliaments over the Lisbon Treaty, no-one really has any appetite for new treaty changes.

Moreover, government leaders will probably present it as minor technical adjustments, so as to circumvent the constitutional or political requirement for a referendum in some member states.

This is all understandable. And it is true much can already be achieved within the existing treaties.

However, to equip Europe and the eurozone in particular for the challenges of the 21st Century much more is needed.

In today's world, our prosperity and quality of life depend on a strong, effective, democratic Europe, able to act decisively. We need to abolish paralysing vetoes, EU commissioners must get more powers, but at the same time they have to be made accountable to the European Parliament, which should have the power to call for the resignation of individual commissioners.

The European Commission should be smaller, and instead of national nominees, its composition should reflect the results of the European elections.

Last but not least, transparency and access to information should be greatly enhanced, so that citizens can really hold their representatives to account.

In the current climate of insecurity and worry, people may not be inclined to take such big leaps. But if we have the courage to do it, it will be a good step on the path to a better future.

Jan Zahradil (Czech Republic), European Conservatives and Reformists

In Brussels, many people have missed the point.

In the European Parliament we have endless academic debates about whether we need "more Europe", more of the so-called "community method", more powers to EU institutions. But now the reality is different. No longer are we going at the same speed or in the same direction.

Today, there are two European Unions within one: the eurozone and the non-eurozone. This is a serious state of affairs, which should not be only admitted, but also reflected in our actions.

Both parts of the EU must remain equal - eurozone members should not be superior to non-eurozone members. And if the eurozone states want to move forward in one direction, they must allow the others to move in their own direction as well. We are not travelling down a one-way street anymore.

If some of the non euro-members, like the UK, wish to bring some EU powers back to the national level, they should be able to. If others, such as the Czech Republic, want to reconsider their commitment to joining the single currency, they should be able to also.

So if an EU politician wants treaty change, first he or she has to recognise this new situation. Reopening the treaties will undoubtedly see EU countries negotiate, and any revisiting of the EU's treaties will be a very messy affair, before you even get to the national referenda. Although unfortunately in Brussels recent events show that such public votes are seen as an obstacle rather than a barrier to the EU's ambitions.

EU politicians should think twice before they reopen this Pandora's box.

Pervenche Beres (France), centre-left Socialists and Democrats

Today we face an unprecedented crisis - the serious risk of the euro collapsing - and President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have come up with their idea of revising the Treaty.

They have an obsessive focus on strictly balanced public finances, without consideration of the current economic situation - widespread harsh austerity measures, which are deepening the risk of a return to recession.

Furthermore, they both believe that member states facing financial difficulties should be penalised through the European Court of Justice. But that would be far from a system based on democratic legitimacy.

The French-German directorate tends to forget that it has to reconcile the views of 25 other countries to achieve any success.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will exploit any transfer of competences to the European Commission to impose his will to dismantle important European social legislation such as the Working Time Directive.

Who can believe that embarking on a treaty revision would restore confidence in the market, when nobody knows what the outcome would be?

The EU has to find a new way out of this crisis, without any revision of the Treaty: reinforce the financial capacity of the European Financial Stability Fund, make the European Central Bank a lender of last resort, introduce a Financial Transaction Tax of 0.05% on all speculative operations, create eurobonds and project bonds to fund sustainable growth.

In the last 20 months the conservatives have demonstrated their lack of leadership by refusing to face their historic responsibilities. The time has come for progressive forces to give a new direction to Europe.

Elmar Brok (Germany), centre-right European People's Party

In the short term we need rapid action. We are currently in a predicament with all currencies at high risk. The sovereign debt crisis exists not only in Europe, but all over the world.

We as the eurozone should implement measures already adopted, such as the EFSF and the European semester. We should also envisage taxing financial transactions and prohibition of products like hedge funds. We have to understand that this crisis is not a currency crisis as such. Even now, the euro is much stronger than when it was introduced, especially in comparison with sterling and the dollar.

The eurozone has to aim for a closely co-ordinated economic, fiscal and budgetary policy, to prevent a similar crisis in future. But as treaty changes take a lot of time, we should also examine if there are possibilities already foreseen in the existing treaties.

The necessary measures could be based on Article 126 and Protocol 12 of the Lisbon Treaty and could be achieved by the end of 2012.

Then there could be limited treaty changes, which concern running the eurozone and which have no consequences for non-euro countries like the UK.

A new separate euro-stability agreement, as demanded by France, is not an option.

A solution has to be found within the existing community structures, which is also where democratic control can be ensured by the European Parliament.

The outcome for the euro will affect the situation of the pound and other currencies. The primary reason for this crisis is not the euro but the accumulation of debt globally. Therefore governments worldwide have to consolidate their budgets.

A breakup of the euro would be a dramatic shock for all other markets and currencies. It would affect the whole common market and would thus also have detrimental effects for the UK. So it is in the UK's interest to support current efforts by the eurozone members to establish an economic and fiscal union.

If we don't manage to find solutions to this crisis, Europe will lose its ability to defend its interests in the world.

The threat of catastrophe is for real - not an abstract scenario. Words are not enough, we need action now. Or Europe will end up, as [the poet] Paul Valery once said, as "an appendix of the Eurasian continent".

(These viewpoints were compiled by Bruno Boelpaep, BBC News, Brussels.)

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