A Guest Post By Gavin Barrett
While I am second to none in my admiration of Vincent Browne for his willingness to engage with the legal issues raised by the Fiscal Treaty, I would have difficulties with some of the assertions made by him in his article in the Irish Times today.
1) I am unable to see how the Pringle case (or any other case) can be the source of a legal threat to the Fiscal Treaty’s validity (as opposed to the ESM Treaty’s). The Fiscal Treaty is a normal intergovernmental treaty which the member states are perfectly entitled to agree with each other in international law.
2) To my mind, the European Stability Mechanism Treaty clearly does not violate Article 3 TFEU. Nor does the Fiscal Treaty. (Article 3 TFEU, as Vincent Browne correctly points out, confers exclusive competence on member states whose currency is the euro). The ESM Treaty has nothing to do with monetary policy. It sets up a permanent bailout fund to lend to member states in distress. The Fiscal Treaty also has nothing to do with monetary policy. As its name suggests, it has to do with fiscal (i.e., taxation and expenditure) policy.
3) It is very far from clear that the Article 136 TFEU amendment process gives an opportunity to member states to veto the setting up of the ESM. It may be argued that it does, but it is not something I would bet the house on, much less the future of the Irish economy, which is what the ‘no’ side appear to want to do. The Referendum Commission does not support the view that there is a veto. Nor do the member states themselves, which will establish the ESM in July 2012 without Article 136 being in force.
All going well, Article 136 TFEU should however be amended shortly afterwards by 1 January 2013. (Ireland, incidentally, has very little interest in vetoing this amendment, since it will put the legal basis of the ESM Treaty beyond any possible doubt. That is a good thing, since it looks increasingly likely Ireland will need to turn to the ESM for a second bailout in 2014.)
4) I am unaware of any reason for questioning the use of the so-called Article 48(6) simplified revision procedure to effect the amendment to Article 136 TFEU.
5) I am not aware of fundamental changes being planned for the EU’s structure which bypass procedures suitable for such change. The only one question mark that might be posed is in going ahead with the ESM Treaty without the Article 136 TFEU amendment. However, even if one took the view that the ESM Treaty should be supported by the Article 136 TFEU amendment, the latter amendment should follow its establishment within six months, then removing whatever doubt may be felt to exist in this regard.