Institutional Affairs

Dutch government favours new look treaty for the EU

11.04.07 @ 09:25

  1. By Honor Mahony and Helena Spongenberg

BRUSSELS - The Dutch government has said the renewed talks on an EU treaty should focus on the current shortcomings in the system rather than aiming to become an overarching "constitutional treaty."

  • "We will simply not put to ratification a treaty that was rejected by a large majority of the Dutch population" (Photo: EUobserver.com)

Speaking to MEPs on Tuesday (10 April), Europe minister Frans Timmermans said his government is not prepared to present to the Dutch electorate the same document it rejected in June 2005.

"We will simply not put to ratification a treaty that was rejected by a large majority of the Dutch population," he stated.

But he said The Hague was willing to play a constructive role in the talks adding that the 27-member union needs a new set of rules for it to function properly.

"We cannot continue to function with 27 member states and with the agenda Europe has in front of it in the coming decade on the basis of the Nice treaty," he explained.

Mr Timmermans suggested that Europe should focus on the shortcomings of the current system - the Nice Treaty – and top up where it cannot answer the bloc's challenges such as on dealing with more member states, climate change, energy security and terrorism.

"What we are looking for is a new treaty amending existing treaties rather than a constitutional treaty replacing all former treaties," he stated.

"Many of the elements in the constitutional treaty can be extremely useful in this process," said Mr Timmermans pointing to the reformed decision-making system.

The Europe minister also said the Charter of Fundamental Rights should just be referred to in one article rather than the whole document being included in the treaty and said that social aspects such as housing and healthcare should remain national policies.

With Dutch voters sceptical about further EU enlargement – the issue is thought to have contributed to the EU constitution No votes both in The Netherlands and France - the minister also said expansion criteria should be included in any new treaty.

"There is merit in defining very clearly the criteria applied to membership, and perhaps good merit in incorporating the criteria for membership into a new treaty."

Speaking to EUobserver after the meeting, the minister said that it was too early to say whether there would be another Dutch referendum on a new treaty but indicated that any decision on the matter would depend on the size and the scope of the document.

French contribution

Meanwhile, leading member of the French centre right UMP and head of the Europe committee in the national assembly, Pierre Lequiller, also appeared before the constitutional affairs committee.

He presented a concrete outline for a new look treaty and how to revive it, with interest in views from France increasing by the day as 22 April presidential elections draws closer.

Mr Lequiller favours a "simplified treaty" including the first part of the constitution - dealing with institutional reform - plus six articles from the rest of the treaty.

The six articles concern the creation of an EU diplomatic service, qualified majority voting in foreign and security issues; updating the bloc' humanitarian tasks in security and defence; structured cooperation on defence issues; rules on drawing up the annual budget; and the procedure for reviewing the treaty.

Three additional protocols would then sum up the EU's policies where qualified majority voting is applied.

This would reduce the treaty from its current 448 articles by over a third to 116 articles, said Mr Lequiller, but rejected that it would be a mini-treaty along the lines of what Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right front-runner in the French presidential elections has proposed.

MEPs greeted the text with caution, with several pointing out that French citizens should be asked their opinion again in a referendum to avoid "an enormous crisis of confidence."

The EU constitution has been largely ratified by 18 member states but the shock rejection in mid 2005 by the two founding member states put the issue on political ice for well over a year.

Renewed talks on the issue started again this year but have run into difficulty already with tough stances taken by Poland and the Czech Republic and political uncertainty in France and the UK.

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