France unlikely to change its mind on constitution

13th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

BERLIN, June 13, 2006 (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has raised hopes that she could end the impasse about Europe's ailing constitution, but observers say she is unlikely to perform any miracles.

BERLIN, June 13, 2006 (AFP) -  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has raised hopes that she could end the impasse about Europe's ailing constitution, but observers say she is unlikely to perform any miracles.

Merkel's reputation for saving the day in Brussels was build in December, barely a month after she took office, when she helped broker a deal on the bloc's budget.

As the EU prepares for another crunch summit on June 15 and 16, her image remains unscathed, partly thanks to the fact that she has survived eight months at the head of a left-right power-sharing government without any major crisis.

"In Brussels, which is fumbling along without a constitution, she is considered as the queen of Europe. It's no wonder, because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king," Die Zeit newspaper said, comparing Merkel favourably to her peers in Paris, London, Warsaw and Rome.

Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac at a meeting outside Berlin last week signalled that they would seek a new consensus on the EU's institutions over a two year period, from the start of the Germany presidency of the bloc in January 2007 to the end of France's reign in December 2008.

But just between Paris and Berlin alone, a lot of compromise will be needed on the treaty French and Dutch voters consigned to the deep freeze in 2004.

Merkel, a strong supporter of the blueprint, told reporters: "We have agreed that the constitutional treaty will be reviewed during the German presidency, after a period of reflection."

The reflection period is in line with a recent proposal by EU commission chief José Manuel Barroso that a decision on the future of the treaty should be delayed until 2008, which won Paris' support.

But French leaders, including presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy and the opposition Socialists, have made it clear that the French people are not likely to accept even a modified version of the constitution they rejected in a referendum.

Chirac for his part said he hoped that during Germany's presidency a way could be found to "improve the way Europe functions with its existing treaties."

Joachim Schild, an expert on Europe at the University of Trier in south-western Germany, said Merkel will have only a small "window period" for any progress on the constitution in the final weeks of the Germany presidency of the EU.

She will have to wait until after the presidential and parliamentary elections in France in April and June to see what position the new political leadership in Paris takes on the treaty.

"Angela Merkel's role in generally over-estimated. What she can hope to do during the German presidency is to draw up a time-table. That in itself will already be a huge success," Schild told AFP.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, the current EU president, at the weekend approvingly described Merkel as somebody who is "very wise", but warned people not to have unrealistic expectations of what she can do.

"She is not a domineering boss who tells other people what to do, she operates more like the leader of a team," he told the weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Merkel's minister in the chancellery, Thomas de Maiziere, agreed that she was not somebody who acted alone and said nobody could save the constitution single-handedly.

He added that Merkel would consult widely on the issue in search of a consensus.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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