Very hard to prove but it is the only conclusion I can draw from a very strange little story today. On the front page of today's FT Germany there is a story about the German opposition leader Angela Merkle and her attempt to do something about the spike in petrol prices at the German pumps. Her suggestion? To tap into the German strategic oil reserves in order to cut off the spike while the markets are still panicking about hurricane Katrina. It seems an eminently sensible way to deal with the price volatility, indeed it is one of the four reasons generally stated for the maintenance of strategic oil reserves in the first place. This suggestion which was backed by the FDP's Westerwelle has since been turned down by Schroeder (though he has hinted that he might offer to release some of Germany's reserves in a "internationally coordinated" action.)
However what was really odd was the response of the European Commission.
Says the FTD,
"On Thursday the European Commission clearly rejected these plans, "a member state can not release its reserves not arbitrarily nor totally nor partly", the spokesman of energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs told the FTD. The reason: "The height of the reserves is regulated through the EU. Changes must be approved by the commission".
I checked this statement.
The Constitution, Part III, Article 256 states,
"Union policy on energy shall aim to:...
(b) ensure security of energy supply in the Union",To do this it ahs turned what was a unanimity measure into a QMV (qualified majority vote) measure. (Hitherto energy policy was governed by TEC 308 / unanimity, this meant that essentially a government could what it wanted as it would always support its own position effectively vetoing any attempt to stop it. If QMV then permission would have to be granted by the Council).
This therefore made the spokesman's comments look distinctly threadbare. Was this another example of the Commission attempting to impose the rejected Constitution by stealth? But first some more checking, and sure enough in 2002 the Commission prepared a directive to take discretional control for the oil reserves.
This went, through co/decision to the European Parliament, where as the Karlsson report it was rejected in November 2003.Specifically over the issue of the Commission's attempt to gain "discretionary" control over the oil stocks.
Today I asked a friendly journalist to ask about this at the Commission press briefing. The spokesman in question was not available and the Commission flatly denied the story. What has happened though is that Ms Merkle has had a public slapping down by the Commission only a couple of weeks before the election.