Calls for France, Germany to save EU constitution
15 June 2006, BRUSSELS - A European Union summit opened Thursday amid calls for heavyweights Germany and France to rescue the bloc's crippled constitution by 2009. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said he wanted Germany to forge a roadmap for reviving the constitution which has been declared dead by some after French and Dutch voters rejected it last year. But Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen pointed to the EU's dilemma: "Some have said 'no
15 June 2006
BRUSSELS - A European Union summit opened Thursday amid calls for heavyweights Germany and France to rescue the bloc's crippled constitution by 2009.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said he wanted Germany to forge a roadmap for reviving the constitution which has been declared dead by some after French and Dutch voters rejected it last year.
But Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen pointed to the EU's dilemma: "Some have said 'no' and some have said 'yes' and this is the reason we are not going to find a solution at this summit and why we are going to prolong the reflection period."
A total of 16 of the 25 EU states have given a green light for the constitution, mainly through parliamentary ratification. All 25 must approve the treaty for it to enter into force.
Resurrecting the treaty will be a long haul effort, Schuessel indicated, referring to a likely three-year timetable.
Germany, the EU's biggest power, takes over the bloc's helm for the first half of 2007. Schuessel called on Berlin to kick-start the process by working closely with France which will lead the 25-nation bloc a year later.
"There will then be a decision (on the constitution) at the latest in the second half of 2008 under the French presidency," he said.
EU leaders are expected to agree Friday for a bid to get a revamped constitution in place by 2009.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been outspoken with calls to preserve most of the original constitutional treaty text.
But Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot insists the constitution be radically slashed in scope and downgraded to a mere treaty status. This, he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, would allow it to be approved by the Dutch parliament and prevent it from facing another referendum.
Bridging the gulf between constitution backers and governments which have rejected the treaty or are deeply sceptical about it - such as in Britain and Poland - will be a massive task which looks set to dominate EU proceedings for the coming years.
"There seems to be less consensus on what would be the way forward," said British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Turning to the other key issue at the summit, Schuessel denied the EU was setting up new obstacles to further expansion of the bloc.
"We do not set up new criteria. We always said the candidates must be prepared ... to meet their responsibilities. On the other hand the Union must be ready to integrate (them)," he said.
French President Jacques Chirac, who is leading calls to slow down EU enlargement, said the bloc had to decide its geographic "limits" by the end of this year.
Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU either in 2007 or 2008, but after that it remains unclear as to when the bloc will take in aspiring states such Croatia and other countries in the western Balkans.
Further afield, both Ukraine and Georgia are knocking at the EU door. Membership talks with Turkey, which began last October, are expected to last up to 15 years.
Chirac and some of the old EU states insist that opening of the bloc's doors to poorer cousins of south-east Europe must hinge on whether old members are capable of dealing with them and paying what are expected to be massive bills for developing their infrastructure.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warns that the EU cannot enlarge further - after taking in Romania and Bulgaria - unless a new institutional and decision-making framework is in place.
The 2001 Nice Treaty - under which the bloc now functions, given the failure to ratify the new constitution - only has provisions for an EU of 27 states.
In other summit business, leaders will discuss the bloc's immigration crisis following the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants from Africa on Spain's Canary Islands over the past weeks.
They also will nod through Slovenia's planned membership of the eurozone as of January 1, 2007 and are expected to confirm the rejection of Lithuania's bid to also adopt the euro.
Subject: German news