28th May 2023

Constitutional wrangling enters last phase

The wrangling over the final crucial wording in the future European constitution will reach fever pitch today as the different components in the Convention on the EU's future thrash out their last ultimate positions before the finale tomorrow.

MPs, MEPs and member state representatives will meet separately through out the course of the day ahead of the plenary session which has been put back to this evening at 6pm.

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The most recent text, presented yesterday by Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has come in for some heavy criticism.

MEPs and MPs joined forces last night to come up with a common position to present to Mr Giscard later today.

The most controversial issue remains whether to introduce qualified majority voting into the area of foreign policy. How revisions should be made to the constitution after it comes into force is also an area of difficulty.

At their meeting last night, many convention delegates complained that the Convention president had given them little time to study the reviewed text of the Constitution.

"You have practically flooded us with papers", said Elmar Brok, German Christian Democrat MEP. "It is difficult to see our heads above them - not to mention read them", he added.

Government representatives also attempted to join forces on Wednesday afternoon and work out a list with "a number of important issues" that they agree upon.

Danish representative Henning Christophersen believes that the credibility of the Convention result could be undermined as some member states are not taking the remaning Convention working days as their "last shot" because they want to bring the controversial institutional questions to the IGC, intergovernmental conference.

Debates in the plenary

As a result, yesterday's plenary was mainly a repeat of the criticism or support of the revised text with speeches reiterating what has been said before.

One of the hottest topics still is the extension of QMV, qualified majority voting in the Council. Members of the Convention have different opinions whether this decision-making procedure should be introduced in the fields of common foreign affairs policy and taxation.

Governmental representatives almost unanimously agreed that the article on the chairman of the Council should be more clear and exclude any chances of a conflict between the duties of this post and the President of the European Commission.

Many also stressed that the article on rotation of the Council formation should clearly state "strict equality" of the rotation principle.

Other difficult issues include whether to mention Christianity in the preamble and the titles for the new posts to be introduced after 2009.

Should the head of the European Council be called president or chairman - with all nuances that each of the titles implies. What should the titles of the commissioners with no voting rights be, is also up for discussion.

Mr Giscard asked repeatedly that issues where consensus has already been reached over the past 16 months not be re-opened.

"Have we all been at the same Convention?", asked Peter Hain, the UK government representative in the Convention. If we re-open the whole text then we are in deep trouble, he added.

What happens next?

The three different components in the convention will give their positions on the latest text to the Presidium later this morning, when Mr Giscard's inner team holds separate meetings with them.

After the meetings the Convention presidium will make another attempt to "draw the strings together" and produce a compromise on the controversial topics at the Convention plenary this evening.

Mr Giscard wants the Convention to finish its work on Friday (13 June) and drink champagne around midday.

He will present the Constitutional draft at the Thessaloniki summit on 20-21 June.

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