The leadership of the European Union is to launch a bid for revision of the EU's treaties, in an attempt to balance emergency measures to shore up the eurozone.
Today, the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to launch an unprecedented and controversial programme to buy government bonds. The price for such ECB intervention will be a re-shaping of the EU, with greater fiscal powers transferred from the member states to the centre.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, who is under constant threat of legal challenges at home that the ECB is exceeding its powers, has been the strongest advocate of treaty change. She wants greater political and fiscal union in return for such shorter-term measures such as increasing the flexibility and firepower of the eurozone rescue funds.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, is expected to indicate his support for changes to the EU treaties in his annual ‘state of the Union' address to the European Parliament on Wednesday (12 September).
He has dropped several hints over the past few days that he is lining up behind Merkel. In a speech in The Hague on Saturday (1 September) he said that “Europe and the principles of the treaty need to be renewed”.
“Treaty change takes time so we need to have short-term responses to financial instability,” he said on Tuesday (4 September), in a speech to the heads of the EU's delegations overseas.
He added: “Short-term [action] is not enough because the so-called markets know very well that in the longer term the stability of the currency depends also on the political construct and on the solidity of the institutions that are behind it.”
The Commission will next week publish proposals for a ‘banking union' that would bring eurozone banks under a common supervisor and regulatory structure and create common crisis resolution and deposit insurance schemes. Some members of Germany's central bank have warned that it can succeed only once treaty change has created tighter fiscal union.
Barroso, Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, are already working on a roadmap towards stronger political union that they are scheduled to present to the European Council on 13-14 December.
But Barroso and Van Rompuy may struggle to persuade sceptical governments and the public of the need for another change to the EU's rules. Some member states would prefer bringing about political integration through the existing treaty or through very limited treaty change.
A senior Czech official said that debate about wholesale treaty revision could “endanger the stability of the Union itself”. He said that his country could support limited treaty change but wholesale revision would play into the hands of radical political parties.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said that treaty change was “all very well in the long run” but “a long-winded institutional debate including the implementation of treaty changes will not help solve the immediate problems we are faced with now and which need an immediate solution”. He advocated “making optimum use of the existing treaty provisions”.
Andrew Duff, a British Liberal MEP, said he supported approval for a convention in December, which would pave the way for work to start in the spring of 2015 after the start of new Commission and European Parliament terms.
“Creating a proper executive has to be the objective,” he said.
Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda, who leads the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group in the Parliament, said talk of treaty change now could distract from measures to solve the current crisis. “We need treaty change but it's a long-term project. It doesn't make much sense to call for it now.”