Open Europe Blog

As Open Europe Director Mats Persson notes over on his Telegraph blog, in his speech today, Cameron has set himself a concrete timetable, despite the fact that timetables in Europe are notoriously difficult to control. A treaty change discussion could drag on for years. Here we look at how a few examples of how slowly or quickly it takes to reach a decision in Europe.

Basically, EU treaty changes or fundamental reform can take an enormous amount of time – or it can happen in months. It’s all a matter of political expediency – and how bad Europe needs it / wants it. The single EU patent, for example, took 37 years to negotiate. Setting up a €440bn bailout fund took 12 hours (though it was followed by a year of bickering over what they actually had agreed).

So here are some examples. Those who say Cameron is stuffed, could point to:

Single EU patent – 37 years 
The Convention for the European Patent for the common market was signed at Luxembourg on December 15, 1975, by the 9 member states of the European Economic Community at that time. However the CPC never entered into force as it was not ratified by enough countries. It took until last December for a an agreement on the creation of a single patent system across 25 member states.

Fisheries reform – 21 years and counting 
In 1992, it was determined that there had been over-investment in vessels, overfishing and that numbers of fish landed were decreasing, and that reforms were needed to address these issues. Completing the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by the end of June 2013, in a single reading if possible, is the goal of the current Irish EU Presidency.

UK Rebate – 10 years 
In 1974/75 the Wilson Government sought to resolve the UK contribution question – which was the highest in net terms – during the “renegotiation” of the UK’s terms of accession which it had promised in its October 1974 election manifesto. The UK did achieve a new corrective mechanism but the revised formula (which placed more emphasis on national wealth when calculating our contribution) in practice produced no real benefit to Britain. In 1984, Margaret Thatcher secured the UK rebate in its current form.

European Constitution/Lisbon Treaty – 8 years 
The drafting for European Constitution was initiated by a declaration annexed to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, and the draft Constitution was signed on 29 October 2004 by representatives of the then 25 member states. Following the ‘no’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums, negotiations over the Lisbon Treaty began in 2007 and the new Treaty was ratified in 2009.

…but those who say that, given the enormous stakes, Cameron actually achieve something substantial, could point to:

Limited treaty change to establish new eurozone bailout fund – 5 months 
On October 29 2010, following pressure from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU prime ministers and presidents backed “a limited treaty change” to deliver tighter fiscal discipline and allow for the creation of a permanent bail-out fund for members of the eurozone. On March 25 2011, the European Council agreed to amend Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union with regard to a stability mechanism for Member States whose currency is the euro.

Setting up a new €440bn eurozone bailout fund – 12 hours
On May 9 2010, following 12 hours of talks in Brussels, EU financed ministers agreed to establish the EFSF, a temporary bailout fund composed of government-backed loan guarantees and bilateral loans worth up to €440bn provided by eurozone members.

In EU politics, when you hear someone giving you an easy answer, it’s probably the wrong answer…

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