Institutional Affairs

Centre-right EPP party seeks way to implement EU constitution

22.03.06 @ 09:46

  1. By Mark Beunderman

BRUSSELS - The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) will at its congress next week call for the "implementation" of the EU constitution, according to a draft manifesto seen by EUobserver - but key passages on how this implementation should proceed are still being contested.

  • Europe's christian democrats and conservatives will issue a common manifesto in Rome (Photo: EPP-ED)

The EPP, the pan-European political party behind the EPP group in the European Parliament, will meet in Rome on 30-31 March for a congress which could expose differences between its national member parties on the fate of the EU constitution.

The Rome meeting is set to be attended by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is a staunch proponent of a revival of the charter, but also by France's interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who saw their countries' citizens reject the treaty last year.

A draft "Rome manifesto" agreed by officials of the Christian democrat and conservative member parties of the EPP reiterates the European centre-right's commitment to the constitution, but leaves key passages on its precise ratification and implementation open for discussion at the Rome congress.

The draft manifesto states that "the reforms foreseen in the constitutional treaty - which were the result of a broad consensus between the representatives of member states, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission...need to be implemented."

The text states that "an institutionally paralysed union would contribute to the scepticism of citizens towards the European Union in general."

The EPP draft document underlines the necessity of a series of reforms proposed by the constitution, such as a new voting system for member states, an EU minister of foreign affairs, and the charter of fundamental rights enshrined in the treaty.

Dutch want 'ratification' scrapped

But EPP member parties have so far failed to agree on the exact strategy to implement the ideas of the constitution.

The Dutch christian democrats (CDA) have issued an amendment proposing to scrap a passage that says "the EPP proposes that the process leading to the ratification of a European Constitutional treaty should be continued after the period of reflection, taking full account of the outcome of this period."

The "period of reflection" was agreed by EU leaders in June 2005, following the negative outcomes of French and Dutch referendums on the constitution.

The text proposed by the Dutch CDA which should replace the contested sentence merely states that "a constitutional settlement" is necessary to boost democracy, fundamental rights and efficiency, without any references to ratification.

Their stance echoes the position of the Dutch CDA-led government which argues that after Dutch citizens' "no" to the constitution, it is impossible to have the treaty ratified in the Netherlands.

Through the back door?

However, the Spanish Partido Popular (PP) has submitted another amendment that speaks out against the step-by-step implementation of single parts of the constitution - which is generally seen as an alternative to the ratification of the entire text of the charter.

This so-called "cherry-picking" idea is championed by French centre-right politicians, but disliked by the Spanish conservatives.

The PP has proposed a passage in the EPP manifesto saying that "The EPP believes that any attempt to enforce the constitutional treaty by instalments would be a fraud not only to the Dutch and French electorate but to all European citizens."

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, a member of the European Parliament for the PP, said that the amendment proposed by his party is not directed against the constitution as such, but against attempts to implement only parts of it.

"14 member states have ratified the constitution as a whole. The constitution is a package deal and one cannot just pick the sexy parts, impose these through the back door and leave the rest out," he told EUobserver.

Enlargement re-think

The draft EPP document also signals a re-think of the European centre-right's stance on EU enlargement.

"The most recent enlargement has been viewed by the EPP as a "win-win" achievement which has brought substantial benefits to all member states," the text reads.

"Despite this fact, many citizens are becoming more and more critical of the European Union. Many people are critical about enlargement without the solution of some important internal problems..."

The manifesto therefore concludes that the EU "has to be reformed before the next enlargement, after Romania and Bulgaria."

The text also says that "any future enlargement has to take into account the EU's ability to absorb new members," reflecting recent statements from senior centre-right politicians such as Germany's chancellor Merkel and France's presidential hopeful Sarkozy.

Sweden's conservative Moderaterna party has however proposed cutting the "absorption capacity" paragraph.

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