17th May 2022

Former EU leaders call for 'political leap' in Europe

Several former EU politicians have called for a "leap" on the European political scene to create enough impetus to see through institutional reform in the bloc by 2009.

A joint declaration, published in Florence on Friday (17 November) urges member states to "get back on the path to reform of the European institutions."

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Signed, amongst others, by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the architect of the frozen EU constitution, ex-German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and the former presidents of Italy and Portugal, the text calls for a "political leap by all the parties concerned so that the new process is concluded at the time of the new European parliament in spring 2009."

Going into detail, it says that the whole of the first and second parts of the constitution – dealing with the values and aims of the bloc as well as the fundamental rights of citizens – should be kept and that the contentious parts of the third section – detailing the policies of the EU – should be clarified.

This could be done with an "additional protocol," says the declaration.

"We cannot remain deaf and inward-looking when faced with the necessity of the revival of the European integration process," said current Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, according to French daily Le Monde.

Berlin-Paris axis

Talk about reviving the EU institutional reform process – put off track by the rejection of the European constitution by French and Dutch voters last year - has gone up a notch recently.

This is mainly due to the twin prospect of the German EU presidency in the first half of next year as well as French elections in April – with only a concerted effort by Berlin and Paris thought to be enough to get reform back at the top of the bloc's political agenda.

Additional pressure has also come from the enlargement process as several politicians - including EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso - have indicated that the EU cannot expand further without internal reform.

Germany has made progress on the constitution – calling for an "ambitious" text - one of the main issues of its six-month stint at the helm of the EU. Now it is waiting to hear what Paris has to offer.

The likely centre-right contender for the French presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, has suggested the constitution be pared down to a mini treaty – but this has sparked hostile reactions from several quarters, including Berlin.

So far, the left has not been so clear. Segolene Royal, recently chosen to be the socialist presidential candidate, has simply indicated that voters need to be won over about the need for reform in Europe.

Angelica Schwall-Dueren, an EU expert for the German social democrats in parliament, told Reuters "We have to hope that the respective [French] candidates don't wed themselves to a position that would make agreement on a constitution difficult in the end."

"I am trying to make clear to our [Socialist] partners that it is important to leave the door open to possible solutions," she added with French socialists continuing to be strongly divided over the EU constitution.

For its part, Germany is planning to have a concrete timetable on the constitution and institutional reform on the table by an EU leaders summit in June - with a view to bringing the reform process to fruition in 2009.

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