EU leaders leave constitution in limbo until 2008
16 June 2006, BRUSSELS - European Union leaders on Friday left the bloc's moribund constitution in limbo until 2008 and set tougher terms for the admission of new member states to the 25-nation bloc. "We need more time to reflect," said French President Jacques Chirac whose country, along with the Netherlands, rejected the constitution in a referendum last year. Wrapping up a two-day summit, leaders remained sharply divided on how the EU should deal with its twin crises of the constitutional treaty and pro
16 June 2006
BRUSSELS - European Union leaders on Friday left the bloc's moribund constitution in limbo until 2008 and set tougher terms for the admission of new member states to the 25-nation bloc.
"We need more time to reflect," said French President Jacques Chirac whose country, along with the Netherlands, rejected the constitution in a referendum last year.
Wrapping up a two-day summit, leaders remained sharply divided on how the EU should deal with its twin crises of the constitutional treaty and promises for further expansion.
Leaders merely agreed to continue debate on the constitution - something they have done for the past year with no evident success.
They vowed a final decision on the treaty's fate by the end of 2008.
Backtracking on calls by EU foreign ministers last month for the constitution to be approved and in place by 2009, leaders declined to set any deadline.
The constitution has been on ice since being rejected last year by French and Dutch voters. All 25 EU members must approve the treaty for it to enter into force.
There are rising doubts over whether the constitution can be saved in anything resembling its present form.
"Problems with the constitution run too deep for mere cosmetic changes," admitted a top official from a country which firmly backs the treaty.
Some countries, such as Germany, want to ram through as much of the text as possible, despite the French and Dutch "no" votes.
But the Dutch government insists the constitution be slashed back, reduced in scope and renamed as a mere treaty so it can be put up for a vote in their parliament rather than face another referendum.
In any case, no progress is expected on the constitution until after French and Dutch elections in mid-2007.
Turning to enlargement, EU leaders raised hurdles for future applicants by setting a new criteria for enlargement: the ability of present member states to absorb any new members which are mainly poorer nations from the western Balkans.
"It is two sides of the same coin.... The candidate must be ready to take all obligations but the Union must be ready to integrate new member states," said Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.
But spotlighting confusion on enlargement, Schuessel insisted this was not a new criteria but rather "a condition." He did not elaborate.
While saying small Balkans states like Croatia had good prospects for joining the EU, Schuessel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said entry for a country as big as Turkey would be more problematic.
"Turkish membership is a huge challenge. This is obvious," underlined European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, while signing up for the still-to-be-defined principle of "absorption capacity", insisted it must not be used as an excuse to keep out new members.
In the past, admission terms were more straightforward and mainly based on applicants conforming to EU laws, rights and norms. This led to the 2004 "big bang" expansion of the bloc to include 10 new states, mainly from former communist eastern Europe.
But reacting to a public backlash against fast-track expansion, governments have been losing enthusiasm for taking in further members.
Chirac, who is leading moves to slow EU expansion, insisted at the summit that "the EU must ensure it has the political, financial and institutional capacity to welcome new members ... and have the support of its citizens to continue enlargement."
Senior EU officials admitted this was making things far tougher for Romania and Bulgaria which are slated to join in 2007 or 2008 and for Croatia which hopes to enter the EU in 2009.
"They have a much more difficult position - but they are really fighting," said the official.
In other business, EU leaders approved Slovenia joining the euro single currency zone on January 1, 2007. They also confirmed the rejection of Lithuania to join the eurozone next year due to its overshooting inflation targets.
Subject: German news