Richard North, 19/09/2012  

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This is our old friend Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, whom we met in June of this year with his so-called "Future Group" and their interim report.

And now, they – eleven EU foreign ministers including the German – are at it again, this time with another "joint paper" calling for states to hand over more powers to Brussels in order to resolve the eurocrisis.

Their proposals include EU rights to intervene on national budgets, treaty reforms without unanimity and majority decision-making in foreign policy. However, the ministers stress that suggestions are "personal opinions" that do not necessarily reflect the views of their governments.

Westerwelle, speaking for the group, said in Berlin: "At the end of the path that we are now taking now can only be political union". He added: "this would complete our economic and monetary union. At the same time it would realise a common foreign and security policy in the fullest sense".

This political union, Westerwelle continued, must be based on a foundation of European power. He wants "a parliament which adopts European laws and a commission that does the work of a European government". The president, he says, should be directly elected, and with a council, as a second Chamber to represent "the concerns of the member states".

Including Westerwelle, we have the foreign ministers of Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Not all members of the group agreed with the idea of a directly elected president, however, but they all called for short-term measures to strengthen the single currency.

The majority of these measures, it is felt, would be possible without changes to the EU treaties, but they are not enough. Also needed is "effective surveillance powers with specific competencies for the European institutions to monitor and implement fiscal measures in the member states". This means that the EU commission must be able to veto national budgets.

Westerwelle says that no member state should be allowed to jeopardise the safety of monetary union. The community is "entitled to act and should have the powers to do so". Some members go as far of requiring the pooling of sovereign debt. These may have been France and Italy. Germany and the Netherlands were opposed.

As to the ESM, this to be expanded into a permanent crisis fund known as the "European Monetary Fund", taking over responsibilities from the IMF. The EU parliament would also be involved in any further euro rescue measures taken at EU level. Other proposals include splitting the now very large commission in senior and junior commissioners.

The "majority" of the eleven ministers agreed that only MEPs from the eurozone, and those involved in the Fiscal Pact, would participate in decisions affecting the euro. That would exclude UK and Czech MEPs.

To circumvent vetoes by the United Kingdom or other countries such as Ireland, "most" ministers believe that treaty changes should be possible with a "super-qualified" majority, with the treaty provisions binding only on the ratifying states.

Taking in the foreign and security policy, minister want a "fundamental review" of the newly created European External Action Service. They want to see changes the neighbourhood policy, over which the commission still has some control. They want majority voting where there is joint representation in international organisations, "where possible".

Also, the ministers want a European defence policy. For "some" ministers this could mean a European army. And all ministers want a European Border Guard to secure the external borders of the Schengen area. National visas should be replaced with European visas.

This is all serious stuff, and the eleven are not messing. Westerwelle and his fellow ministers are to submit formal proposals in the next few days to European Council president, Van Rompuy, and Barroso. The EU parliament was informed last week.

They ministers regard their paper as a contribution to a wider institutional reform paper being developed by Van Rompuy and his "quartet" in Brussels. Theirs is a shopping list from a few individuals. By the end of the year, however, they expect the next moves towards the objective to be made. And once the countdown starts, there will be no stopping it.

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