ANN CAHILL: Lisbon under scrutiny as Germany demands changes

LEGAL experts are examining the Lisbon Treaty to see if it is possible to make the changes Germany wants without holding a referendum.

Some believe it is possible to tweek the treaty to allow a permanent crisis fund to be established to bail out eurozone countries that run into problems. But they are less convinced that depriving countries of their vote to punish them for not maintaining strict control of their economies is possible without bigger changes.

Germany is insisting it needs treaty change to replace the temporary joint EU-IMF €750 billion bailout fund when it expires in 2013.

Chancellor Angela Merkel got France on board and they have signalled they will push for the changes at this week’s summit on Thursday and Friday.

Foreign ministers discussed it yesterday at their pre-summit meeting and on Sunday night at a dinner with president Herman Van Rompuy.

Several countries, including the Czech Republic, warned the change would probably require them to hold a referendum while the Netherlands was sceptical about what they saw as opening up the Lisbon Treaty again, as was Italy.

Portugal spoke against the idea of suspending voting rights, while Britain made it clear that they considered it all an issue just for the euro countries. The Torys have promised that any change that involves a transfer of powers from London would require a referendum.

Europe Minister Dick Roche said that Ireland wanted to hear more from Germany and France about what they are proposing. “We understand what they want, but are there other ways of achieving it?”

A spokesperson said that officials are looking at the issue in Dublin to judge if there would be a transfer of competence which would require a referendum, but they should know more after the summit.

The Belgian minister who chaired the meeting said it was clear that nobody wants to open up the treaty and make fundamental changes.

He added that there were different ways to change the treaty and, given that there was no time to lose, it was possible there could be a decision on the issue by the EU leaders at the summit later this week.

The Luxembourg minister Jean Asselborn in an interview with German media, said the deal between France and Germany, announced without consulting any other countries on the need for treaty change, had “poisoned the atmosphere”.

The leaders are expected to adopt a series of measures and sanctions intended to tighten supervision of each others’ budgets, but without the sanctions kicking in automatically as the European Commission wanted.

They are expected to ask the European Commission to investigate setting up a new rescue facility and what treaty changes that will require. This needs to be done urgently as Germany’s highest court is expected to issue its judgment in the spring on a case challenging thelegality of the Greek bailout and the inter-governmental facility on the basis that they breach the “no bailout” clause in the Lisbon Treaty.


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