Portugal hopes for October EU treaty finale
25.06.07 @ 17:34
BRUSSELS - The incoming Portuguese presidency has set aside just three months for negotiation on a new EU treaty, believing the weekend's tempestuous summit resulted in sufficiently clear directions to wrap up a new text.
According to Portuguese ambassador Alvaro Mendonca, formal negotiations will be opened on 23 July with the aim to have them signed off by EU leaders on 18-19 October.
"We believe we have a mandate that is clear, precise and agreed by all 27 member states," said Mr Mendonca at the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank on Monday (25 June), referring to last week's top-level meeting.
He added that the first month and a half will be spent translating the document agreed by leaders – which lists all the areas where the original rejected constitution needs to be changed – into legal text.
After that the first political phase will come when EU foreign ministers discuss the document at an informal meeting in early September in Portugal.
The ambassador said that time will tell "to what extent" member states will respect the mandate they gave themselves, with several governments over the coming weeks likely to face flak – particularly in the UK and the Netherlands – for agreeing a document that is substantially very similar to the original constitution.
But he added that Portugal "consider[s] that the main political points have been agreed."
"In theory, it should be plain-sailing," he said, before wryly noting that the weather forecast for the weekend turned out to be completely wrong.
Two speed Europe?
For their part, MEPs are now working on their formal response to EU leaders – both the European Parliament and the European Commission have to give the green light for the intergovernmental negotiations to go ahead.
German socialist MEP and constitutional affairs committee chief Jo Leinen gave a cautious welcome to the outline, but criticised how the final treaty will look and how the bitter summit negotiations resulting in specific concessions here and there for individual member states appeared to signal the end of the "European spirit."
"The treaty is going to have far more footnotes, explanations and exemptions," he said.
He also noted that the results, which include opt-outs on judicial and police affairs as well as on the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the UK, will introduce a de facto "two-speed" Europe – an idea that MEPs "will have to get used to."
His comment echoed those of Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, who strongly criticised the way Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK negotiated during the summit and saying a two-speed Europe will be "inevitable."
The draft response by MEPs to the summit was discussed on Monday afternoon and is expected to be voted on next month.
At the moment, the five-page document "welcomes the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the Constitutional Treaty" including giving the EU a single legal personality and extension of the areas where MEPs' may co-legislate. It also welcomes the new mentions of climate change, energy solidarity and the strengthening of the role of services of general economic interest.
On the minus side, the report suggests that the "increasing number of derogations" in the mandate could "lead to a weakening of the cohesion of the Union" and regrets the loss of EU symbols – flag, anthem and motto – as well as simpler more citizen-friendly terms for EU legislative acts.