EU Constitution – Will the 27 reach an agreement?

Article published on June 12, 2007
community published
Article published on June 12, 2007
Brussels -by Stella Willborn The next European Council summit on 21 and 22 June 2008 will have nothing less on its agenda than the future of the European Union. Obviously bringing together 27 Member States to pull on one string is not an easy task. At the moment heads of government meet bilaterally to set out their position on future treaty.
Several issues have thus become apparent during the last weeks. ....

The next European Council summit on 21 and 22 June 2008 will have nothing less on its agenda than the future of the European Union. Obviously bringing together 27 Member States to pull on one string is not an easy task. At the moment heads of government meet bilaterally to set out their position on future treaty. Several issues have thus become apparent during the last weeks.

The original treaty is dead

To start at the very beginning, it is more or less a common view that the constitution will not become effective as it is at the moment. But at least a timetable has been set up for introducing a treaty until 2009. However at the moment it is not clear what this treaty will look like.

New ideas are on the table

There are several proposals on the table. Jo Leinen (MEP in the European Parliament) brought up a proposal which sticks very much to the initial draft. He suggests dividing the current draft into two. The first part – called a fundamental treaty – would have 70 articles on the values, objectives and competences of the EU. The “Treaty on EU’s Policies”, as the second part, would amend the Treaty of Nice. Further the Action Committee for European Democracy or so-called “Amato-Group” as it is led by the Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, asks for a reduced and simplified treaty. The proposal includes 70 articles dealing with institutional reforms and several amendments to consider part IV of the old treaty. The two proposals focus mainly on legal and editorial aspects while the heads of states are discussing the nature of the new-born treaty in terms of political issues. Key questions are: Qualified or double majority? A foreign EU minister? Unification of the three pillars? Permanent presidency? Legal personality of the Union?

Mini-treaty, treaty- plus or no treaty?

Nicolas Sarkozy and Romano Prodi are both in favour for a simplified treaty or the “mini-treaty”. In their views it shall include the initial ideas concerning the institutional reforms such as the above mentioned issues. Generally the 18 countries which have already ratified the constitution prefer to have as less changes as possible. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Great Britain face the skepticism of their population. Tony Blair /Gordon Brown have already stated that they do not intend to hold a referendum. But to justify this approach the constitutional elements would have to be taken out. Unlike Great Britain and the Netherlands, the Polish and Czech citizens do not spray an anti-European attitude but the head of government themselves. The two states wish to re-open discussions and to start at the very beginning. Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski disapproves in particular proposals for a double majority in the EU Council and a permanent presidency. He strongly underlined his position by saying that they “are ready to die to change the voting rights”. Therewith he rephrases the slogan “Nice or death” which the Polish right wing party used in relation to the Treaty of Nice. In addition the Czech government is of the opinion that the ratification process will take longer than one year (until the end of 2008). Mr. Topolánek is against the key elements of the institutional reforms, such as the foreign minister and the new voting system of the Council. In addition, he seems not to like some other elements e.g. the Charta of Fundamental Rights. Nevertheless German Foreign Minister Frank Steinmeier expressed his optimism about an agreement on the “broad lines of the new EU treaty” during the next European Council. He is convinced that all states agree to at least maintain the same level of ambition as that of the draft constitution. According to him a large majority of EU member states even aims to open new chapters on climate change or solidarity in energy matters as an additional part of the constitution. Two weeks are left until the Heads of State will discuss the big issue in the European Council. The countdown has started.

Stella Willborn, 12 June 2007