The plushest of red carpets is being rolled out by the UK for Chancellor Merkel on 27th February – everything short of a full State Visit. What does the UK want out of this visit and might it be given? The critical issue is “Treaty change”. Without this, Prime Minister Cameron’s entire political strategy of a 2017 referendum on EU membership would fall flat as there would not be a Treaty change to accept or reject – so no referendum!
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) can only be changed with the unanimous agreement of all 28 Member States and several of them have entrenched requirements for a referendum if powers are to be transferred to `Europe’. So TFEU change is a time-consuming process - with a highly uncertain outcome. IF Cameron remains Prime Minister of the UK after May 2015, then there will be a window of about 18 months while Cameron, Merkel and President Hollande are not distracted by imminent elections. If that window is missed, then such decisions will probably fall to a new political generation in the '20s.
Hollande made it clear about three weeks ago that Treaty change is “not a priority” for France - partly because a referendum in France could become a highly personalised verdict on his performance. Few other EU leaders seem to be thirsting for Treaty change even though many of them are anxious for further `reform’ – a term that has at least 28 meanings.
Is Chancellor Merkel willing to contemplate Treaty change? The answer is: Yes. In her powerful speech to the Bundestag on January 29th (see text extracts in box below) – setting out the new government’s policy programme - she dwelt at some length on European issues and made it clear she would like to see Treaty change. So 2 out of 28 EU leaders currently want “Treaty change”, but do they want the same thing?
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© Graham Bishop
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