EU leaders agreed to Franco-German calls to change the EU treaty  to avert new sovereign debt crises [Reuters]

European Union leaders have agreed in principle to support minor changes to the bloc's main treaty, as it tries to protect EU economies against any future financial crises. 

At a summit on Thursday, EU leaders endorsed a new set of tougher budget rules that had already been agreed by the bloc's finance ministers, diplomats said. These include sanctions on states that fail to keep deficits and debt in check.

"There is a general agreement around the table that there will be a possibility of a limited treaty change, notably putting the euro area crisis mechanism on a more firm footing," one EU diplomat said.

The package will get the final seal of approval if Germany accepts the wording of a statement giving a mandate to Herman Van Rompuy, the EU president, to prepare the changes to the Lisbon treaty, with the support of the executive European Commission.

"Van Rompuy will receive a mandate to talk to the 27 member states on the opportunity for a treaty reform. And the Commission will receive a mandate to explore the technical modalities of such a reform," a senior EU source said.

Proposed changes

The proposed changes were initially opposed by member countries other than Germany and France. They includes demands to amend the treaty to create a permanent and legally sound crisis-resolution system for countries that use the euro currency, enhance financial stability and support the euro currency.

Most EU leaders opposed major changes to the framework that became law only 10 months ago after eight years of negotiations, but they agreed to the need for minor amendments.

Germany which is Europe's biggest economy, says that a permanent system must replace the safety net created in May 2010 for all eurozone states after the Greek debt crisis threatened the euro.

It has opposed extending the mandate of the ad-hoc European Financial Stability Facility worth $608bn.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has also repeated calls for the suspension of voting rights of EU countries who fail to keep their budgets in check. Most other member nations find this unacceptable and the demand is expected to be blocked.

Merkel told Al Jazeera's Barbara Serra that, "The European heads of states have to prove to their citizens [that] they have learned the necessary lesson from the crisis.

"Just because many are afraid of the difficulties of changing the [Lisbon] treaty, that is no argument against change. I am convinced this is the only way towards a strong and lasting framework for dealing with future crises."

All member states must unanimously approve any change to an EU treaty either through a parliament vote or via referendum. The European Parliament must also agree.

Finland, Greece, Sweden and Britain, along with Poland, Slovakia and Ireland, had indicated ahead of the summit that they would support limited amendments.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies