Fresh EU presidency attacks European Court of Justice

03.01.06 @ 09:53

  1. By Mark Beunderman

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has kicked off his country's presidency of the EU with criticism on the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for systematically expanding EU powers through its rulings.

Mr Schussel made his remarks in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday (31 December), just one day before Vienna started its six-month period at the helm of the EU.

The Austrian leader called for the debate on the future of the EU to focus not only on the fate of the EU constitution, shelved after French and Dutch voters rejected the text, but also on the role of the EU’s top court.

Mr Schussel said "the ECJ…has in the last couple of years systematically expanded European competencies, even in areas, where there is decidedly no [European] community law."

"Suddenly, judgements emerge on the role of women in the German federal army, or on access of foreign students to Austrian universities – that is clearly national law", he added.

The chancellor referred to a judgement by the EU court of last July, when judges ruled that Austria could not restrict access of foreign students to its universities, many of whom are Germans.

Constitution roadmap

Mr Schussel also reiterated that his government will during its stint at the helm of the EU not press the ratification of the EU constitution, which Austria itself supports.

In June 2005, European leaders agreed upon a "reflection period" on the constitution, in response to negative outcomes of referendums on the charter in France and the Netherlands.

The Austrian leader stated in the interview with Sueddeutsche "I am in favour of a discussion phase to start with. It is important that we form ourselves a clear picture on the concerns of citizens".

But Austrian politicians had earlier indicated that Vienna will try and lay the foundation for a new consensus between member states supporting further ratification of the constitution, and those that have said farewell to the treaty.

Mr Schussel said Austria wants to achieve a "roadmap" at the EU leaders' summit in June, to come to a solution "best at the end of 2007."

Concern about EU centralisation

Vienna’s strategy to resuscitate the constitutional debate will first see a discussion on identity, kicked off by a major conference called "The Sound of Europe" at the end of this month.

"The first thing would be to accentuate more clearly the identity question and to send the message that there is no European uniform mass, but more identities, that constitute the European sound", Mr Schussel said.

As a further sign of the Austrian presidency’s concern about a centralised EU, Mr Schussel indicated deregulation and subsidiarity (the principle that political decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level) should be "taken seriously."

Around May, the discussion about identity, deregulation and subsidiarity should start to focus on concrete issues, such as the role of the ECJ, the chancellor announced.

Finally, Mr Schussel expressed support for the idea of his German counterpart Angela Merkel, who has proposed to attach a declaration on the "social dimension of Europe" to the failed EU constitution.

The non-binding declaration should call upon the EU institutions to better consider the social implications of EU internal market legislation.

Chirac initiative

Meanwhile, French president Jacques Chirac has announced he will launch a new political initiative to break the constitutional deadlock.

Mr Chirac made the announcement in a televised speech on 31 December, without revealing details of his plans.

"With all our partners we have reached a budget agreement, but Europe needs institutions that are more democratic, more stable, more effective", he stated.

"We cannot wait. This is why I will quickly take up the initiative to start building a political Europe, a social Europe, a Europe of projects."

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