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13th Apr 2024

Spain and Germany up pressure on EU constitution

Spain has reaffirmed its role of a vocal promotor of the EU constitution with renewed criticism of the UK, France and the Netherlands, while Germany is also upping the pressure saying it wants a new-style EU treaty before the end of the year.

Alberto Navarro, Spanish Europe minister on Wednesday (1 March) reminded London, Paris and The Hague that the majority of 18 member states - representing also a clear majority of the EU population - have now ratified the EU constitution which French and Dutch voters rejected in referendums in 2005.

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Mr Navarro reserved the strongest criticism for the UK, which has only recently indicated it wants to see a slimmed-down EU treaty including only some of the constitution's key institutional reforms.

UK prime minister Tony Blair and his then foreign secretary Jack Straw in 2004-2005 strongly defended the constitution as a "good result for Britain and for Europe," the Spanish minister highlighted.

"Obviously the position has changed in two years. At that time, they were proud. I don't know what has changed exactly and why they are so many problems now," he said.

The remarks led Jim Allister, a unionist Northern Irish MEP, to say "that all doesn't mean very much" as Mr Blair is "yesterday's man," expected to be replaced by his current finance minister Gordon Brown.

Mr Brown is generally seen as more eurosceptic and less committed to a new EU treaty as Mr Blair.

Mr Navarro also expressed impatience with the unclear French and Dutch stances on the constitution, despite Paris being seen as paralysed until it has held presidential elections in May and despite the new Dutch government only taking office last week.

"What alternatives are being prepared by those who have rejected? Until now we haven't heard anything. France and the Netherlands have not told us what they don't like in the treaty."

"Eighty five percent of the constitutional treaty is already in the current treaty. As far as I understand the French and Dutch 'no' does not lie in this 85 percent," he said.

Mr Navarro also reminded Poland and the Czech Republic, who dislike key parts of the constitution text, that they are getting "billions" of euros of EU subsidies, appearing to suggest that they should be more grateful towards the rest of the EU.

Berlin makes haste

Spain, which approved the EU constitution in a 2005 referendum, has emerged as one of the most active proponents of salvaging the bulk of the charter in the upcoming re-negotiations of the document.

Madrid together with Luxembourg organised a controversial "friends of the constitution" meeting last month to which countries who did not yet ratify the charter could only send observers.

While Madrid has taken up a public pro-constitution campaigning role, Berlin is no less impatient to push the charter as the current EU presidency - albeit through confidential rounds of diplomacy with member states behind closed doors.

Speaking at a dinner of the Brussels-based CEPS think-tank, German Europe minister Guenter Gloser said a re-negotiated constitution would have to be agreed by the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008, so there would be a long enough time to ratify by the European elections in 2009.

Berlin is expected to already present a basic deal on the constitution at the EU leaders' gathering at the end of its presidency in June this year.

The deal would list the parts of the current constitution which would be left untouched, while also identifying the issues to come up for re-negotiations in a so-called Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) in the second half of the year.

"The presidency is going into the direction of establishing by June a kind of acquis for everybody – the broader the agreement of course the better," EU regional policy commissioner Danuta Hübner told journalists last week.

"And then of course we would have a very short IGC for all those hopefully short list of issues that still require an agreement," she added.

Dinner test

Berlin's constitutional drive will be put to the test already next week when German chancellor Angela Merkel is expected at an EU leaders summit dinner on Thursday evening (8 March) to present her ideas for a the Berlin declaration, marking the 50th anniversary of the EU.

Berlin wants the solemn declaration, to be signed by EU leaders on 25 March, to include a reference to the need for a new EU treaty - possibly with a deadline for a compromise.

But the move is opposed by states like the UK and the Netherlands who are not eager to be pushed on the constitutional issue.

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