EU Referendum

EU Referendum: a treaty hiding in plain sight


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Although the Hollande and Schäuble calls for a new treaty that we reported on Monday got only scant coverage in the legacy media, the signs are that the EU is driving inexorably towards a "core Europe".

The last time we saw anything serious on a "multi-speed Europe" from Hollande was in 2012, when there were strong expectations of developments in the aftermath of the 2014 European elections. But now, after the plans were put temporarily on hold by Chancellor Merkel, there are unmistakable indications that plans are firmly back on the agenda.

Not least, we saw on 2 June in Die Zeit a report of a "secret Franco-German plan" for closer integration of the eurozone, with Angela Merkel said to be in favour of it. The plan is authored jointly by Merkel and Hollande and will be "obligatory" for eurozone members, while those outside the zone will have loosened ties (the so-called associate membership). 

We were also told that the details are based on the Schäuble/Lamers plan of 1994, and studies are under way to determine if the approach is legally possible. That this was a "scoop" was confirmed by the Italian political magazine Formiche, which noted that Kerneuropa (core Europe) could be just what Chancellor Merkel needs to keep her word on Germany being willing to lead Europe.

Such developments, though, always leave traces. Once an idea is abroad, the fingerprints are there to see if you know where to look, as in Euractiv a week ago, which had Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, pick up on the consequences of a core group.

The Italian Repubblica has also picked up the vibes, and Berliner Zeitung has political scientist Herfried Münkler affirming that a core Europe is needed. Even the Guardian recently had Enrico Letta, former Italian prime minister, telling us that the UK must move into the slow lane as part of a "two-speed Europe". And that was on 15 May, only days after the general election.

The US Council on Foreign Relations is now talking of the "Merkel method", while Frankfurter Allgemeine is lauding Schäuble as hero of the hour (alternating as the hate figure), acknowledging that there is a plan behind the recent treatment of Greece.

Süddeutsche Zeitung tells us that Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is "pleased that President Hollande also supports the call for a deepening of the Union". Gabriel, we learn, actually presented the plan in June to French Minister for Economic Affairs Emmanuel Macron, linking in with the Five Presidents' report.

In parallel, SPD deputy party leader Axel Schäfer has announced a "Franco-German parliamentary initiative" to drive the proposals "from the bottom up". Europe and the eurozone are "not just a matter for governments, but also of parliaments", he says. A working group is ready to start work at the beginning of September.

Also buying the line is Tageblatt which contrasts the "concrete" Merkel with the "man of great principle" Jacques Delors, and Die Welt notes that "Paris and Berlin have a common work basis to lead Europe out of the Euro-agony", thus adding more weight to the evidence that something is afoot.

Putting all this together, these are not so much fingerprints as size-12 boot prints, with mud all over the living room carpet. Speculation is fast turning into certainty that there will be a new treaty, and the implications for the EU referendum are profound.

Whatever else, the announcement of a treaty convention, probably to start in the spring of 2018, destroys any chance that Mr Cameron might nurture of getting "reform". The "colleagues" are looking to a massive leap in integration, and they will not be in the market for ideas from the UK.

The prospect of associate membership, therefore, begins to be the only item on the agenda. When this breaks cover, it will transform the referendum campaign. For the moment, though, the UK media remains oblivious to the implications, even though the continental press is all over the idea of a two-speed Europe.

One wonders which newspaper, and which star source, will be the first to "discover" it, and how long it will take – and how much time will be wasted before there is a more general realisation that EU politics are poised for irrevocable change.

When our media do wake up, doubtless they will get it wrong – as they so often do – although eventually, the truth must percolate the brains even of British journalists. In the meantime, though, the "derivative blogs" have it. 

But, since nothing exists until the legacy media "discover" it, we may have to wait a while to be told what we already know – that treaty change is hiding in plain sight and the game is changing under our very noses.