Ministers van Financiën buigen zich over de begrotings-hoofdstukken in ontwerp-Grondwet (en)
Auteur: Honor Mahony
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - With just a few days to go before negotiations on the Constitution are formally revived, behind the scenes activity has increased to fever pitch.
Following a meeting on Tuesday (11 May) in Brussels, EU finance ministers are trying to see if they can reach unanimity between themselves on issues where they would like to see the powers of the EU institutions reduced in the treaty blueprint.
According to diplomats, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown insisted on reverting to proposals agreed by finance ministers at an informal meeting in Italy last year.
These include not letting the European Parliament have the final say over the EU budget; not taking away member states' veto on the multi-annual budget and not giving the European Commission power to start procedures against member states on the stability pact without the consent of finance ministers.
However, the water has become muddied since then and some member states claimed on Tuesday that they were not sure whether all of these proposals had been agreed unanimously.
The Irish EU Presidency will now draw up a "shortlist" of those issues where finance ministers can agree, said Irish finance minister Charlie McCreevy.
However, according to a diplomat from a large country, "it is not clear when the list will be ready and to whom it will go".
Mr McCreevy was also unable to say on which issues finance ministers would be able to agree. He said only that it would be up to them to take it to their foreign ministers who will meet on Monday for formal constitution negotiations.
However, taking away the sole right of the European Parliament to have the final say over the EU's budget is one issue where there may be agreement among ministers.
"There is no question of there being a raid of the European Parliament's powers" insisted an Irish diplomat adding "we are looking for a balanced solution".
Size of the Commission
Over the next few days, things are set to move on other fronts too.
The Irish Presidency is to produce two documents on the extent of the veto in the constitution and on the make up of the Commission.
On the veto issue, the Irish are likely to be pragmatic and take into account the UK's 'red line' stance - particularly now as the country is to have a referendum on the final document.
London has repeatedly said it will not countenance having qualified majority voting on tax issues, foreign and defence policy, or social security.
Chancellor Brown repeated the mantra today saying that tax harmonisation would be "unrealistic, unjustified and unacceptable".
It is unclear yet whether the document on the size of the Commission - an emotive issue for both large and small states - will contain concrete suggestions such as reducing the body to 18 in the future as has been mooted already.
Everything is interlinked
For the moment, an Irish diplomat just characterised it as a document to "start political discussion".
However, the Irish Presidency is well aware of the difficulty of the task ahead of them especially as the most contentious issues are interlinked - with the risk that more and more issues get pushed to the final summit of EU leaders in June.
But Dublin will still try and clear as many issues from the table as possible at next week's foreign ministers meeting and has not ruled out a further meeting in May.