29th Jun 2022

Austria and Belgium urge haste with EU constitution text

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has said a new EU treaty should be finalised already next year, while Belgium's foreign minister has proposed to lift member states' vetoes over treaty changes.

Mr Schussel, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has in an interview with the Financial Times, proposed the most ambitious timeframe so far for breaking the union's constitutional deadlock.

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"It would be clever if we took a final decision on the [new treaty] text in the course of 2007 or in the beginning of 2008 at the latest, so that it can be ratified on time."

"It should be our goal that [the treaty] can enter into force at the same time as the new European Parliament and the new Commission [are installed]," referring to the European Parliament elections and the end of the commission's term of office in 2009.

Vienna's timeframe is notably more ambitious than that of a large number of member states who first wish a prolongation of the so-called reflection period on the future of the EU, agreed by EU leaders last year after French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution.

The issue is set to dominate a foreign ministers' meeting in Vienna this weekend (27-28 May) preparing an EU leaders summit on 15-16 June.

According to Luxembourg's prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the reflection period will last at least until 2009 or 2010.

"Even this date is optimistic," he told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday last week.

The European Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso aims at reaching a new treaty deal before it leaves office in 2009, but has taken a more cautious step-by-step approach than Mr Juncker.

Mr Barroso has called upon EU leaders only to sign a political declaration next year on the EU's goals and values, forming the basis of an "institutional settlement" at a later stage.

Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, polls indicate a possible victory of the centre-right and anti-EU constitution ODS party in June elections.

Czech president and ODS politician Vaclav Klaus said while visiting Tallinn on Tuesday (23 May) that "all the Czech political powers believe the treaty was halted in practical terms when France and the Netherlands said no, so ratification is not a credible option in the Czech Republic," according to Polish media.

Belgium at the forefront

But Belgium, which like Austria strongly backs the EU constitution, has said intransigent member states should in the future no longer be allowed to block institutional reform.

Belgian foreign minister Karel de Gucht said on Tuesday in Warsaw that treaty changes should be agreed by a qualified majority of member states, rather than by unanimity, AFP reports.

He said member states' current veto on treaty revisions is "a recipe for immobility."

"This is unacceptable," he stated. "We need to move towards a rule where a treaty change can happen if a large majority of member states, representing a large majority of the people of the union, has given its consent."

"Countries belonging to the rejecting minority would, of course, have the right to opt out."

"Equally clearly, moving to this new rule can only occur on the basis of the current requirement of unanimity," he admitted.

EU opens door to Ukraine in 'geopolitical' summit

EU leaders will also discuss eurozone issues with European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde, as more and more leaders are worried about voters' distress at soaring inflation.

EU parliament revokes Russian lobbyist badges

After months of stalled negotiations to remove Russian lobbyists from the EU's joint-transparency register, the European Parliament has decided to go solo and unilaterally bar them from its premises.


The euro — who's next?

Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

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