Irish Times

GERMAN CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel displayed plenty of her habitual caution on a visit to Brussels but there was little ambiguity in her call for changes to the EU treaties to reinforce the euro.

After a lunch meeting in the Berlaymont building with the 27 members of the European Commission, the chancellor signalled that Berlin was not for turning in its push to enshrine tougher economic rules in Europe’s basic legal text.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny doesn’t like this kind of talk, which raises the prospect of a difficult negotiation, culminating in yet another agonising referendum in Ireland.

Such an initiative would give Europe greater powers to impose its economic will on recalcitrant countries, leaving little room for manoeuvre when national budgets are being framed. While Brussels has already moved to strengthen its discredited system of economic governance, Dr Merkel wants to go further still.

Many other leaders have deep reservations, but the German leader could hardly have been clearer. “We’ve said that if one day it becomes necessary to change treaties to have more reliability in our working together, in particular in the euro area, then treaty amendments should not be a taboo,” she told reporters. “We have to adapt our legal situation to the factual situation.”

But what exactly did she mean?

“I’m afraid I can’t and won’t answer that question today,” she said.

“If we reach the conviction that the country isn’t doing all that it should as a member of the euro area, I don’t think we should rule out the possibility of treaty change.” Commission chief José Manuel Barroso joined in, saying treaty change would “probably” be necessary. “We may need treaty change for more integration, if the current mechanisms are proved to be not enough,” he said.

A key European summit looms on Monday week, a meeting at which EU leaders will be asked to convince the world that they have it in them to finally settle the debt debacle. For all of that, however, the chancellor said there was ample time to leave the final decision on deeper economic co-ordination until the next summit in December. “I think it’s only fair and proper that member states have at least a couple of months in which they can discuss this,” she said. “To move from a union of debt to a union of stability is something which is a step-by-step approach, it’s not just one magic wand.”

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