Tensions likely over plans to change Lisbon Treaty

Tensions likely over plans to change Lisbon Treaty

Franco-German plans to change Europe's Lisbon Treaty barely a year after it was finally approved will raise tensions at an EU summit in Brussels today.

The treaty was nine years in the making, starting life as a constitution rejected by the French and Dutch and ending up as a new treaty almost scuppered by an Irish referendum "No" which was overturned at a second attempt.

Then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there should be no more EU treaty changes for at least a decade and president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso said it was time to end "institutional navel-gazing" in Europe.

Now, to their embarrassment, many EU leaders face pressure from Berlin and Paris to agree to reopen the treaty in the wake of the economic crisis.

German chancellor Angela Merkel says changes are need to tighten rules on bailing out any member states which may face a Greek-style economic meltdown and to toughen sanctions against those who breach EU single currency debt and deficit rules.

British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to keep his powder dry, partly because Britain is not affected by sanctions against eurozone countries and also because he wants to focus on fighting plans to increase the size of the EU budget despite national belt-tightening across the EU.

Any treaty change needs parliamentary approval in all members states - opening up the risk of federalist pressure to alter other parts of the treaty to extend EU powers at the same time.

British Eurosceptics clamouring for a referendum on the EU are also champing at the bit.

EU and national lawyers are at odds over whether Mrs Merkel's planned changes can be agreed without reopening the treaty. If not, MEPs would certainly demand a new "convention" to give them a voice in any changes, and the procedural in-fighting which has blighted the Union for years would continue.

The summit is likely to ask EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy to look at the options, pushing the issue into the background and, in the words of Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn, "plunging the EU back into months and years of navel-gazing".

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