EU constitution put on ice until 2009

29th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

29 May 2006, VIENNA - European Union foreign ministers Sunday put the bloc's first-ever constitution on ice until at least 2009, a move which could prolong the crisis triggered by last year's rejection of the landmark treaty by French and Dutch voters.

29 May 2006

VIENNA - European Union foreign ministers Sunday put the bloc's first-ever constitution on ice until at least 2009, a move which could prolong the crisis triggered by last year's rejection of the landmark treaty by French and Dutch voters.

Meeting at a 12th-century abbey outside Vienna, the 25 EU foreign and European affairs ministers admitted the bloc had failed to overcome sharp differences between countries which have declared the constitution dead and those still seeking to salvage it.

"We need a consensus of the 25 (EU members) and we have not yet reached that point," admitted Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik who chaired the two-days of talks.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso agreed, saying: "We cannot say at this stage that there is complete agreement on what to do... it is not yet possible to give a clear answer."

Many participants, including German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, spotlighted 2009 as a deadline for getting an EU constitution into place.

But Plassnik repeatedly deflected questions on whether the 2009 timetable was firm.

"I can neither anticipate what will happen in 2009 nor next year," said Plassnik.

With no agreement in sight, EU ministers ordered another 12-months of "reflection" on how to revamp decision-making and power-sharing in the Union.

Steinmeier was blunt in saying years would still be needed for the EU to forge consensus on the deeply controversial constitution.

"This discussion is going to take a longer period of time," said Steinmeier. A German diplomat was even less upbeat, saying: "The whole process is not going to be easy."

The EU would need until June 2007 to hammer out agreement on how to move forward and then probably a further two years to put a revamped constitutional treaty into place, said Steinmeier.

"My time frame is therefore until 2009," said the German Foreign Minister.

Berlin is set to take over the EU's rotating presidency for the first half of 2007 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to make a big push to save the constitution.

The constitutional charter - rejected last year by voters in France and the Netherlands - was supposed to have come into force on January 1, 2006.

But the "no" vote pitched the EU into a crisis given that all 25 EU states have to approve the constitutional treaty.

One idea being explored is to stop calling the document a constitution which has become a red flag for many Europeans.

Steinmeier was especially insistent that the content of the treaty was more important than what the final text is called.

"Substance is the key and form is less significant," the German Foreign Minister said.

Repackaging and renaming the discredited treaty appears to be Berlin's strategy to help sell the package of measures aimed at streamlining EU decision-making machinery.

Barroso agreed that the constitution may have to be rebranded. "I assume this question will come up...should we change the name of it."

"If someone finds a better name, great," he added.

But even with a re-christened treaty, it remains unclear how France and the Netherlands will find a way to win public approval for a text which was stunningly rejected in the 2005 referendums.

EU leaders will revisit the tangled issue when they meet in Brussels for their summer summit on June 15-16.

Wrangles over the constitution are impacting on future EU expansion.

Many EU ministers said that after the planned admission of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 or 2008, further enlargement would have to wait until a new treaty was in force.

Under current EU treaties, voting rules are only in place for a Union of up to 27 member states.

Any enlargement slowdown would hit Croatia which has said it wants EU entry in 2009 as well as other western Balkans states lined up to join the bloc.

Negotiations for possible Turkish membership, which opened last October, are expected to last up to 15 years, making the issue less urgent for Ankara.

DPA

Subject: German News

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