Thursday, May 25, 2006

The mechanics of enlargement

Via this (EU Referendum), I came across this, a letter to the Daily Telegraph letter by a Tory MEP (odious but not unintelligent according to the first source, but I personally couldn't comment) pointing out the possible consequences of the emergence of Montenegro as a sovereign state in Europe, for which membership of the European Union is held out as a possibility under the EU's stabilisation and association process for Southeastern Europe. The correspondent argues:

If countries in the western Balkans, such as Montenegro and Kosovo (also demanding sovereignty), not to mention future possible extension to tiny EEA states such as Iceland and Liechtenstein, join an enlarged EU under the current Nice formula, each with its own commissioner, minimum of six MEPs and disproportionate votes in the Council of Ministers, this will cause a serious political imbalance unfavourable to large member states such as Britain.

Well for starters, much of this is wrong, and it is disappointing for an MEP to show himself so ill-informed about the mechanics of enlargement. After all, although EU Referendum persists in calling it the Toy Parliament, the European Parliament does wield considerable legislative power in the EU, and I would be happier if I felt its members, whether from the UK or elsewhere, were well informed.

The general point about enlargement is that it requires an accession treaty, which itself amends the EC Treaty and must be ratified by all Member States, as well as the acceding state. Every accession treaty has necessitated institutional adjustment, and the more recent ones greater adjustment than ever before (and thus one should not take for granted what the post-enlargement institutional settlement might be), but the interesting point about the Treaty of Nice was the extent to which it pre-empted accession negotiations by means of a pre-determination of what the institutional outcomes of the accession negotiations would be for the 12 states which started accession talks in the late 1990s (with 10 having acceded in 2004). Nice contains some interesting points on institutions which are insufficiently taken into account in much debate. The most important concerns the size of the Commission. Article 4(2) of the Protocol on Enlargement provides that when the number of Member States is 27 (i.e. probably 1 January 2007 assuming Bulgaria and Romania accede as scheduled), Article 213 of the EC Treaty is amended to read:

The number of Members of the Commission shall be less than the number of Member States. The Members of the Commission shall be chosen according to a rotation system based on the principle of equality, the implementing arrangements for which shall be adopted by the Council, acting unanimously.

We are not told how many Commissioners there will be, just that there will be fewer than 27. Perhaps the Council may resolve it should be less than 25, which it is at present. Who knows? But it is worth pointing out that nothing should be taken for granted about the institutions in post-2007 phase of enlargement. In fact, although I have no firm reference for this point, I do recall hearing Jack Straw, as Foreign Secretary, say on the Today Programme in the aftermath of the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty, that the Member States might choose to include most of the Constitutional Treaty's institutional reforms, such as changing the system for calculating a qualified majority, via a future accession treaty (such as the one with Croatia, which is the next one which is likely to be negotiated).

Now the other question which arises, is whether such an accession treaty should be put before the national electorates in the existing Member States for approval (as opposed to the acceding states where accession referendums have become commonplace). If it were put before those electorates, would that be on the basis of the "constitutional" significance of further enlargements (which is presumably what has motivated the amendment to the French constitution to require future accessions after but not including the anticipated Croatian accession to be put to referendum), or on the basis of the "constitutional" signifiance of institutional changes which change the balance of powers either amongst the various institutions, or amongst the Member States so far as they are represented in those institutions.


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