Richard North, 14/12/2012  

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It is strange how, with the EU issue in the UK intensifying, it is slowing down on the mainland for the time being. Thus, we see Spiegel's report of the European Council telling us that the "colleagues" have chosen "rest over reform".

As recently as November, the magazine says, Merkel was saying that this month's EU Council meeting would set an ambitious timeline for far-reaching "reforms" in the eurozone. But, whether pre-Christmas exhaustion or something else, such ambitions have been forgotten for the moment.

After nine hours of talks, we are told that all the "colleagues" managed was a five-page paper. Although called a "roadmap," this is little more than a vague outline for the next six months.

The most "concrete" date mentioned is June 2013, when Van Rompuy is to have worked out a solid timeline for the establishment of closer fiscal policy coordination among euro-zone member states. But this "time-bound roadmap" was exactly that which was forecast for this month. It seems it wasn't that "time-bound" after all.

Nevertheless, Van Pompuy is also to examine how bilateral reform treaties between the European Commission and individual common currency members could look in order to make reforms recommended by Brussels more binding, on top of producing a "Recovery and Resolution Directive and for a Deposit Guarantee Scheme Directive".

The Council Conclusions themselves run to 13 pages filled with the usual impenetrable jargon. But at least we can be reassured that "the immediate priority" is to complete and implement the framework for stronger economic governance.

This, everyone will be pleased to know, includes the "six-pack", the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG) and the "two-pack". Following the "decisive progress" achieved on the key elements of the "two-pack", the European Council calls for its rapid adoption by the co-legislators.

At the behest of ECB head Mario Draghi, the "colleagues" discussed the detail on winding down struggling banks. Such a mechanism is a crucial element of the bank supervisory regime which the eurozone finance ministers agreed last Thursday.

Spiegel calls this a "vague agenda" for between now and next summer, and that all other questions relating to currency union reform, such as that of a separate euro-zone budget as well as various models for joint debt liability, were "deferred". The detailed, long-term reform plans worked out by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in recent weeks went unmentioned. However, the new treaty agenda remains intact, with the conclusions stating:
... the general objective remains to ensure democratic legitimacy and accountability at the level at which decisions are taken and implemented. Any new steps towards strengthening economic governance will need to be accompanied by further steps towards stronger legitimacy and accountability. At national level, moves towards further integration of the fiscal and economic policy frameworks would require that Member States ensure the appropriate involvement of their parliaments. Further integration of policy making and greater pooling of competences must be accompanied by a commensurate involvement of the European Parliament.
Alongside this, Cameron seems to have made his play, agreeing to stand back from any eurozone drive towards greater integration in exchange for "concessions".

Other EU nations are warning Britain not to "overplay its hand" and believe any concessions would be very limited. Hollande is being more specific, declaring that the EU is not "a la carte" like a menu from which member states can pick and choose their powers. All that means we are on our way to a repeat of 1975 with its faux renegotiation. 

 On this basis, the Independent says Cameron will promise in his "landmark speech" next month a referendum on this "new settlement", but not until after the 2015 general election. The paper sees the UK demanding "repatriation of powers" during negotiations on new EU treaty during 2016, and then the possibility of a referendum the following year.

At last, it seems, there is some recognition of the lengthy timetable we have been forecasting for some time. Nothing much has changed though. Things are just taking a little longer than many people thought they might.


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