Finnegan's Take

EU governments plan to press ahead on a single patent without agreement of all member states – a sign of things to come?

One result of Europe’s economic crisis is the newfound willingness to abandon the softly-softly approach to consensus decision making. A microcosm of this phenomenon can be seen in efforts to agree a single European patent.

There has been exasperation in Brussels at the repeated failure of European governments to strike a deal that would make it cheaper and easier for companies to protect intellectual property across the EU.

For years, a row over what languages patents must be translated into has been a major stumbling block. Pragmatists say English, French and German will do, but purists want more. Italy and Spain have been particularly insistent that translation into their languages be mandatory.

But after a decade of deadlock, a subgroup of EU member states plan to press ahead under a rarely-used “enhanced cooperation” procedure. In effect, they are threatening to create their own common patent and presenting other governments with an ultimatum: join us or be left behind.

The feeling among diplomats is that Italy is most likely to be isolated by the move as Spain has hinted at willingness to compromise.

Two Europes

The bigger picture here is that several member states are sick of waiting for 27 governments to agree to everything. This is an important trend given the drive towards ever closer fiscal union sought by some.

Indeed, the euro already represents something of a twin-track EU where 17 members share a currency while others go it alone. Now, some impatient federalists in “core” countries see European economic governance as the natural response to the euro crisis, while public sentiment in the “periphery” moves in the opposite direction.

The price paid for being outside this group is a return to a more isolated position, still in the club but excluded from the VIP corner. The price for being within it could ultimately but fiscal harmonisation and an end to low-taxation regimes.

Which, for Irish voters, leads us to the question of our time: where will Ireland find itself in the Europe that emerges from the current state of flux? Will it be inside with a common currency but having surrendered several more slices of sovereignty, or outside paddling its own canoe in troubled waters?

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