15th Apr 2024

Friends of EU constitution defend treaty's 'fundamental content'

  • The Madrid group said any new version of the charter should "respect its fundamental content and its balances" (Photo: Council of the European Union)

A pro-EU constitution gathering in Madrid has called for a revised version of the charter to not go "below" the existing compromise, while expressing "frustration" at the lack of alternative solutions put forward by countries that have failed to ratify it.

The EU constitution as it stands is "the result of complex and difficult negotiations" which reflects "delicate balances bringing together diverse political, social, economic and legal interests," stated delegates from the 18 countries that have already ratified the charter plus Ireland and Portugal on Friday (26 January).

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The group stated that any new version of the text should "respect its fundamental content and its balances," while acknowledging that certain modifications to the constitution could prove necessary following the negative 2005 votes in France and the Netherlands.

"Obviously we are aware that as every human construction, even this treaty can be improved," suggested Alberto Navarro, Spain's Europe minister, explaining that new challenges have come up since 2004, when the constitution was signed.

"If needed, we could add something about climate change, immigration or energy… We are ready for that. But the clear message from Madrid is that we prefer to improve the text rather than cut out from it," said Spain's minister.

Nicolas Schmit, the Europe minister of Luxembourg which had co-organised the meeting with Spain, stated "We can't move below from what we have already achieved in the treaty signed by all member states. We can go further but not below."

Frustration with sceptics

According to observers to the talks, Spain's suggestions for new elements to be included in the revised treaty did not however feature high at the meeting. "It was not much of an issue," one insider commented.

However, ministerial delegates from most of the attending countries pointed out that member states who find it difficult to proceed with ratification should make clear what exactly they think is missing or what they dislike in the existing text.

Apart from France and the Netherlands, seven other countries have not ratified the EU charter: Ireland and Portugal - the duo that asked to be allowed to attend the pro-constitution camp meeting - as well as the UK, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Asked by journalists whether the "friends of EU constitution" felt frustrated by the lack of alternative proposals from the non-ratifiers on how to solve the impasse, Mr Navarro said "undoubtedly."

He pointed out that back in 2004 even Jack Straw, the then UK foreign minister, passionately defended the treaty in Britain's parliament.

But after the French and Dutch votes, "all of a sudden it has become difficult" to take the final legal step to approve the document, he said.

Which flags?

Apart from Spain and Luxembourg's Europe ministers, the Madrid meeting was mostly attended by officials at a lower level, with Sweden, Denmark and UK also sending diplomats to "observe" the debate.

Mr Schmit said the request of these three states to follow Friday's meeting had been one reason for his country to cancel a second session of all 27 EU members, originally planned for February in Luxembourg.

"As they received the information we [initially] wanted to pass on in Luxembourg already in Madrid, there was no need for such a meeting," he explained.

However, Mr Schmidt admitted that the calling off of the Luxembourg conference was also because the German EU presidency would by then have started its own diplomatic work on the constitution.

Meanwhile, the Madrid participants were trying hard to avoid the impression that their initiative was aimed at dividing Europe into two camps, while highlighting their full support for German chancellor Angela Merkel's drive to salvage the EU charter.

The organisers' struggle to prevent an image of dividing the EU sparked amusement among journalists when they moved flags back and forth from the central press point - starting with 20 attending countries and finishing just with the flags of Spain, Luxembourg, Germany and the EU.

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