Ratification roundup: Easy here, tricky there
By Gaspard Sebag | Wednesday 29 February 2012
Once the 25 EU leaders who have committed to do so sign, on 2 March, the ‘fiscal compact’ or ‘Treaty on stability, coordination and governance in the Economic and Monetary Union’, a potentially tricky ratification process will start. Though the treaty is due to enter into force once 12 eurozone members have ratified it, the announcement, on 28 February, by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny that a referendum would be held on the fiscal compact has already cast a shadow on the ratification’s outcome. Indeed, Dublin has become rather famous for its ‘no’ in the EU. Another one could be one too many. In light of the weight the Franco-German tandem carries in European construction, the pledge by the Socialist frontrunner for the French presidency, François Hollande, to renegotiate the fiscal compact also takes on a great symbolic importance.
Only those countries that adopt a balanced budget rule will have access to bailouts under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
The Irish government will hold a referendum on the fiscal compact after receiving legal advice from the attorney-general. The arrangements are expected to be finalised “in the coming weeks”
.The latest opinion poll in Ireland showed that around 40% would say ‘yes’ to the fiscal compact if they voted now and 36% ‘no’. The intention of the government is to give effect to the balanced budget rule through legislation, leaving it out of the constitution.
Due to the general and legislative elections coming up in April-May and June, respectively, the treaty will not be ratified before the end of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year mandate. On top of that, Hollande has announced his will to reopen the treaty in case he is elected. In order to introduce the debt brake at constitutional level, as desired by Sarkozy, a three-fifth majority is needed.
The treaty has to be ratified by all nine parliaments, which can take some time. Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said the process will be over before the end of this year. The ‘golden rule’ should be inserted in a ‘special majority bill’, requiring a two-thirds majority, and which legally would be considered as important as the constitution.
A change in government after the forthcoming mid-March parliamentary elections could cast a slight shadow over the ratification process. That said, the governing coalition parties have already given their green light and the opposition has not voiced concerns. A simple majority is required in parliament for ratification, which is likely to happen in the first half of the year. The constitution will be amended to align the balanced budget rule with the fiscal compact.
The treaty will be adopted by a simple majority in the Austrian parliament, which the government is confident it can obtain. A balanced budget rule is already written into law, nevertheless, the government plans to “upgrade” this law to a constitutional law.
A simple majority in parliament is needed and no particular difficulties are expected, explains a government source. It is still unclear whether the balanced budget rule will be inserted at constitutional level. All options are still being examined, says the source.
The outlook for ratification is positive, according to a government source. A simple majority in parliament is sufficient. The debt brake requirement will not enter into the country’s constitution.
The Finnish government, which has sought the backing of the parliament right from the get-go, expects a smooth ratification process, due to start during the spring. In principle, a simple majority in the parliament should suffice. The balanced budget rule will not be inserted at a constitutional level, but rather through a normal legislative process. This should take place during the autumn at the latest.
The German government is aiming to have the treaty ratified before the summer, according to a government official. A political decision was taken to set the bar at a two-thirds majority, which he government is confident it will obtain. Germany already has a balanced budget rule, stricter than that required in the treaty, inserted in its constitution and will therefore make no changes to it.
Athens is still unsure whether it needs a simple or a two-thirds majority for ratification. In any case, the government is confident it can get the necessary support. The balanced budget rule will be inserted in the constitution but no timetable has yet been set.
The Italian government is confident the treaty will be ratified seeing as Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government has already received the parliament’s support. A simple majority is sufficient. The balanced budget rule will be inserted in the constitution. The process is already under way and has wide support in parliament, according to a government source.
A special law, which requires a two-thirds majority to be adopted, will be needed to implement the fiscal compact in domestic law. The government is confident it will get the necessary backing in parliament. International law prevails over domestic law in Luxembourg, including the constitution.
The Maltese government plans to introduce the balanced budget rule at constitutional level after it has debated and voted the treaty. The process should go along smoothly, according to a government source.
The Dutch parliament voted, on 29 February, against a proposal to hold a referendum on the fiscal compact. No other information has filtered through with regard to the ratification of the treaty.
No particular difficulties are foreseen for the ratification process, says a government source. The balanced budget rule will not be inserted in the Portuguese constitution but will be tabled as a special law. This requires a political decision to be taken by the government and the backing of a majority in parliament.
The timetable for ratification is still unclear, yet the outlook is positive seeing as the ruling coalition can count on enough votes and the opposition is not against the treaty, according to a government source. A simple majority in parliament is required. The debt brake is due to be inserted at constitutional level after an agreement was struck with political parties across the spectrum.
The governing right-wing party having been swept to power recently, Madrid expects to be able to ratify with ease. The most likely route will require majority consent in both chambers (congress of deputies and Senate). The balanced budget rule is already in force after having been approved by a reform of the constitution in September 2011.
Sofia has full faith that the fiscal compact will be ratified. This will require a simple majority in the national assembly. The balanced budget rule will take effect at national level following the adoption of a legal act.
In case that the government’s final legal analysis shows that sovereignty is not transferred, ratification will require the consent of a majority of the Danish parliament. This is deemed a given, says a government official. The expectation is that the debt brake will be inserted into a new budget law of a general nature. Provided that the legal analysis shows that no sovereignty is transferred, no referendum is needed.
With the ruling party holding two-thirds of the seats, no difficulties are foreseen even if a two-thirds majority is required. A balanced budget rule has already been inserted in the new constitution, which came into force on 1 January. At the time of Hungary’s entry in the eurozone - not before 2020 - a referendum will be required, this will implicitly mean approving or not the requirements stemming from this treaty.
The ratification process still needs to be decided by the parliament. Yet, since Latvia is not a eurozone member, it can leave ratification pending the moment the country joins the euro. The question as to whether Riga will insert the debt brake in its constitution at a later stage is also up in the air.
The parliamentary elections, set for October 2012, could end up being a potential hiccup concerning the ratification process. That said, only a simple majority is required for the ratification of this treaty. All possible options, including introducing the debt brake at constitutional level, are being considered, indicates a government source. It could well be that the Lithuanian parliament will request the opinion of the Constitutional Court on the compatibility of the treaty with the constitution.
Three different legal routes are being explored in order to ratify the treaty: at governmental level; through a legal act adopted by the national parliament; or by asking for the backing of two-thirds of both chambers. The first option should be discarded. The second, which requires a simple majority, is the most probable. The Polish government counts on its stable coalition for a smooth process. In any case, the balanced budget rule is already included in the constitution.
The resignation of Emil Boc’s government has jumbled up ratification plans. The new centre-right government, which took office on 9 February and is led by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, will be in place until the legislative elections, scheduled in November. The government’s interest will be in ratifying the treaty seeing as it has vowed to stay the course toward adopting the euro in 2015.
The agreement will be ratified according regular procedure for legislation requiring a simple majority. The debt brake will not be inserted at constitutional level.