Merkel faces another tough test at EU summit
20 June 2007, Brussels (dpa) - Two weeks after she brokered an ambitious industrialized nations' deal on combating climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads into an even more fraught battle to revive the European Union's crippled constitution. The German leader, who will chair an EU summit in Brussels on June 21-22, is hoping the bloc's 27 leaders will agree on the outlines of a so-called "reform" or amended treaty to replace the draft constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. M
20 June 2007
Brussels (dpa) - Two weeks after she brokered an ambitious industrialized nations' deal on combating climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads into an even more fraught battle to revive the European Union's crippled constitution.
The German leader, who will chair an EU summit in Brussels on June 21-22, is hoping the bloc's 27 leaders will agree on the outlines of a so-called "reform" or amended treaty to replace the draft constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
Merkel has certainly laboured hard to secure a deal. After weeks of intensive talks, the German EU presidency has managed to whittle down the many areas of discord among the bloc's governments to what officials say are "less than 15" issues.
Unfortunately for Berlin, however, it's these unresolved, complex and politically sticky questions which could torpedo the EU summit - and with it, all hopes that the bloc can end its current institutional stalemate and focus on other key challenges.
The stakes are high, according to officials in Brussels and Berlin.
A new text, reflecting the realities of an expanded EU, will boost the Union's international credibility as well as its standing among European citizens, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insisted recently.
It is also vital to ensure efficient decision-making and reinforce EU cooperation in areas such as immigration, energy and counter- terrorism, said Barroso.
Securing an EU-wide accord on even a simplified version of the original treaty is going to be a painstaking and uphill task, however.
Standing in the way of an EU summit deal is Poland with its demands for an overhaul of EU voting rights, a move opposed by 25 EU states, with only the Czech Republic voicing support.
Britain is fiercely opposed to plans to appoint an EU foreign minister and to demands for a legally-binding charter of fundamental rights while The Netherlands wants the new treaty to toughen EU membership criteria.
While Britain's tough stance is an undoubted irritant, EU officials say it's Poland's bid for more power and prestige which could make or break the Brussels meeting.
Warsaw is demanding fresh EU talks on voting procedures in order to increase its weight in the bloc's decision-making, especially compared to larger countries such as Germany.
As such, it is opposed to the "double majority" system agreed in 2004 which requires that EU decisions have the support of 55 per cent of member states, representing 65 per cent of the population.
Instead, Warsaw wants a voting system based on the square root of each country's population which it argues will give more say to medium-sized EU nations.
German EU presidency sources say Merkel will allow Polish President Lech Kaczynski to raise the voting rights issue at the summit.
But they warned the Polish demands will not be part of the inter- governmental conference expected to be launched in autumn to finalize details of the new treaty.
Accepting Polish demands, they say will trigger an unravelling of institutional arrangements, with other countries making similar calls for change.
Hammering home the point even further, Barroso warned Warsaw this week that it will face a backlash - and perhaps a cutback in EU aid payments worth 67 billion euros over the next seven years - if it blocks a summit deal.
Barroso has also cautioned outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair against coming to the summit with "red lines," a reference to London's opposition to appointing an EU foreign minister or setting up an EU diplomatic service. British officials say such moves would breach EU states' national sovereignty over foreign policy.
Britain also does not want a legally-binding charter of fundamental rights and opposes the end of vetoes in areas such as justice and home affairs.
Sources said a summit draft statement hammered out by Berlin makes some concessions designed to win British support, including eliminating a reference to an EU foreign minister and giving countries the right to opt out of deeper co-operation on home affairs issues.
But the draft still includes plans to make the human rights charter legally binding, although it will make clear that this will not mean interference in national legislative procedures.
The new treaty will also drop planned references to EU symbols such as a flag, anthem and "Europe Day" which are seen as giving the bloc super state status.
Although leaders will work hard to secure agreement - with the summit perhaps overshooting into a third day - EU officials admit that success is not guaranteed.
But if EU leaders do strike a deal, negotiations on details of the new treaty are expected to be completed by the end of the year, allowing it to be ratified and enter into force by summer 2009, coinciding with elections to the European Parliament.
Subject: German news