28th Mar 2023

No big debates or referendums on EU constitution, says Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel has told MEPs she does not intend to re-launch a broad debate on the revised EU constitution but rather focus on confidential talks with national governments, with the aim of having a commonly agreed treaty adopted by 2009.

"The reflection pause is over. By June, we must reach a decision on what to do with the constitution," said Ms Merkel in her first speech to the European Parliament as the EU president on Wednesday (17 January).

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"It is in the interest of Europe, its member states and its citizens, to bring this process to a successful conclusion by the next European Parliament elections in early 2009," she stated, adding that it would be a "historic failure" to miss this deadline.

The German chancellor is planning to launch "initially confidential" talks with her counterparts from other member states and draw a list of their objections to the original treaty - rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 - so as to specify "where the differences lie."

But the prospect of an intergovernmental deal behind the closed doors has sparked a strong reaction from some MEPs who urged Ms Merkel to allow their involvement in drafting the revised EU treaty.

"We need a public debate, we need a convention, we need a vote," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens group.

Mrs Merkel replied that she did not view the EU parliament as "a bright light chamber as opposed to dark chamber symbolised by national governments," stressing that as elected leaders they also represent the European citizens.

"Broad general debate [on the constitution] is behind us," she said, adding that she is personally not in favour of further referendums on the treaty.

Tough opposition expected

But some MEPs told Mrs Merkel she should not lose time on trying to revive the constitution, with the UK conservative Timothy Kirkhope stressing it could "further increase the sense of alienation" by citizens if the EU simply overlooked the decision by French and Dutch voters.

The German leader acknowledged that it would be hard to reach a deal to get the bloc out of its constitutional impasse.

However, she noted that the EU could not enlarge further without a constitution, something she said that those governments in favour of more enlargement should keep in mind.

"Without the prospect of EU membership for the Western Balkans, we won't have the stability that we crave," said Mrs Merkel.

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