EU leaders sign new constitution

29th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

29 October 2004, ROME - EU leaders on Friday signed an historic constitution for the expanding bloc in a fanfare ceremony though doubts remain over whether it will ever come into force.

29 October 2004

ROME - EU leaders on Friday signed an historic constitution for the expanding bloc in a fanfare ceremony though doubts remain over whether it will ever come into force.

The Rome ceremony was also clouded by a row over the EU's incoming executive Commission, which was withdrawn at the last minute this week, leaving the Union in the hands of a caretaker team in Brussels.

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was among the 25 assembled leaders who were urged to press ahead speedily with ratifying the constitution, which must pass referenda in at least 10 EU countries over the next two years to enter into force.

"Those decisions we cannot take for granted," said outgoing European Commission chief Romano Prodi.

"The constitution that we are signing today will therefore need to be backed up by a continually renewed commitment on the part of both citizens and governments," added Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, hosting the event.

The ceremony took place in the ornate Orazi and Curiazi hall, where the Rome Treaty which established the European Economic Community -- the EU's predecessor -- was launched by six countries on March 25, 1957.

The constitution, agreed in June after two years of haggling, aims to streamline EU institutions and prevent decision-making gridlock in a bloc which grew from 15 to 25 members this year, with several more waiting in line.

It could mean a longer-term EU presidency to replace the current six-month musical chairs system, while streamlining the executive Commission and creating a new post of EU foreign minister.

But the historic document has still to be ratified by all 25 EU member states to come into force. The trouble is, at least one or two "no" votes are feared in the referenda to be held over the next 48 months.

Spain is to stage a referendum in February.

Analysts say the scale of the political problem will depend on the number of no votes and, inevitably, where they occur.

If Britain rejects the treaty it could fuel talk about sidelining some countries; a negative result in France could lead to a full-blown EU crisis or even implosion.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday that Britain was likely to hold its referendum on the EU constitution early in 2006.

Blair made no public comment in Rome, leaving shortly after the end of the ceremony.

But of more immediate concern to the EU leaders is the Commission standoff.

The Rome gathering comes just two days after the European Parliament forced Barroso to withdraw his proposed team after protests over Italy's EU nominee for the sensitive EU justice portfolio, Rocco Buttiglione.

Berlusconi's government immediately said it would not drop the devoutly Catholic, but both the Italian leader and Buttiglione are expected to come under growing pressure to "do the honourable thing".

Buttiglione, who was among dignitaries at the Rome ceremony, remained tight-lipped.

But Zapatero implicity called for him to go. "It is limited to one person, so that's where we should start the discussion. There have to be changes," he said.

Italy has so far resisted pressure to withdraw Buttiglione, a conservative with outspoken views on gays and women, as its Brussels nominee.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini says Rome hopes for a speedy solution to the problem.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder admitted that EU leaders talked about the Commission row in the sidelines of Rome ceremony,, but expressed hope the
standoff can be resolved in the next two weeks.

"I would not talk about a crisis -- not yet. If there is an agreement in the next 14 days, which I suppose, then it will be resolved," he said.

Security was tight around the EU leaders, with some a 7,000-security force surrounding the historic centre of Rome and a squadron of
F16 jet fighters enforcing a temporary no-fly zone over the city.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news






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