15 December 2003
AMSTERDAM — As European political leaders tried to play down the failure of crucial talks over the EU Constitution, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said a planned referendum on the issue will not go ahead in the Netherlands.
He said the referendum — which would have gauged the Dutch public’s opinion about the proposed constitution — was out of the question because the EU summit ended on Saturday without result, news agency ANP reported.
The Netherlands initially intended to hold the referendum at the same time as the European Parliament elections in June 2004. But it is highly improbable that EU leaders will reach an accord over the constitution before that date.
It is possible that a new attempt will be made to reach agreement over the constitution in the second half of next year, when the Netherlands will hold the six-month rotating EU presidency.
The talks broke down over how voting will work when the EU expands from 15 to 25 member states in May. Poland and Spain insisted on keeping voting rights already secured, while France and Germany demanded a system to reflect their bigger populations.
The proposed constitution introduces a “double majority” system of voting, meaning that a proposal would be passed if gained backing from 50 percent of countries, representing 60 percent of the EU population.
Medium-sized Poland and Spain claim the system favours big states — such as Britain, France and Germany — and the very smallest nations, BBC reported
European leaders refused to lay blame for the breakdown of the talks, which signified a dismal end to two-years of preparation after it was agreed in Nice in 2000 to implement EU reform. Leaders also played down the divisions that opened up during the summit.
And despite Saturday’s failure, EU member states have agreed that Ireland — which will hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2004 — will present a report with new possibilities for a constitutional treaty in March.
But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — who led the summit in Brussels as present EU president — said new constitution talks can not start before the Spanish elections in April or the European Parliament elections.
He remained positive, however, and said European leaders managed to agree on the vast majority of points in the draft constitution, including an agreement on closer integration of defence, newspaper NRC reported.
Prime Minister Balkenende admitted the failure of the talks is disappointing. “Unfortunately it is not an historical success, but it is not an historical failure,” he said.
Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot said it is possible that an attempt to reach an accord over an EU constitution will be made in 2005 when Luxemburg holds the EU presidency.
Meanwhile, Dutch attempts to have to have stronger rules built into the constitution — allowing legal complaints against members states — were rejected, but not before German Finance Minister Hans Eichel said “the Netherlands was poisoning the atmosphere” by its demand.
The Netherlands recently failed to win support for its demand that Germany and France be forced by threat of fines to rein in their budget deficits under 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Running a budget above that figure breaches the Stability Pact aimed at maintaining the strength of the euro.
But in a counter-move, the Dutch government proposed to the EU summit that member states be allowed to lodge complaints with the European Court of Appeal about budgetary policies of other nations.
Eichel said he was strongly against the proposal and claimed that smaller member states were being tempted to score political points at home by lodging complaints against larger nations. By implication, he meant the Netherlands.
Balkenende immediately discussed the matter with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and said the atmosphere between them is not poisoned. He also said care is needed when talking about a poisoned atmosphere because the EU is meeting to devise solutions.
Minister Bot said the Dutch delegation told Schroder the comments from Eichel were “very annoying” and Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm said he had been in contact with his German colleague and is still “on speaking terms”.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news + EU Constitution