Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

Berlin to stress EU 'social' side in birthday text

Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday (14 March) received some more specifics on the text of the EU's 50th anniversary declaration when talking to German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who revealed that Berlin wants to stress the EU's "social dimension."

Less than two weeks to go before EU leaders will sign the birthday declaration at a meeting in Berlin on 25 March, MEPs like the rest of Europe have been left in the dark by the German EU presidency on what exactly the text will look like.

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Wednesday's debate with Mr Steinmeier took place with no draft text on the table, sparking some vocal criticism towards Berlin from the Greens and Liberals in the EU assembly.

"To debate the declaration without having seen a draft is bizarre," said liberal leader Graham Watson.

"I'm sure the spin doctors in the Bundeskanzleramt [the office of chancellor Angela Merkel] are still at work... but don't feel surprised if many of us feel we're being bounced," he added.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, chief of the Greens, stated "I am opposed to secret deliberations in smoke-filled rooms."

"I don't believe in sherpas and networks," he added, referring to Berlin's covert working method which involves confidential talks with member states' so-called "sherpas" - special appointees for the birthday declaration as well as the EU constitution issue.

But Mr Steinmeier was spared criticism from the parliament's largest two groups – the conservatives and the socialists – which include the German CDU and SPD parties forming the government coalition in Berlin.

The German minister said the Berlin declaration will contain four parts, more or less confirming earlier reports on the structure of the text.

The first part will be on the EU's achievements, like peace, stability, prosperity, including a strong reference to the the bloc's 2004 enlargement. Particular characteristics of EU integration – such as the equality of all member states – will also be mentioned in this part, according to Mr Steinmeier.

The second part will cover EU values, such as human dignity, freedom, tolerance and mutual solidarity.

The third part – termed the "heart of the declaration" by Mr Steinmeier – will discuss current and future challenges. These are set to include climate change, a common EU foreign policy, "common responses" to illegal immigration and the fight against crime and terrorism.

The social dimension

The German politician highlighted that Berlin "really wants to underscore the social dimension" in this third part of the declaration.

"Europe stands for a social model based on economic competition but reconciling that competition with social and ecological responsibility," he stated.

A strong social paragraph is important to France which in 2005 saw a failed referendum on the EU constitution partly due to fears that the EU would become too liberal.

But too much social talk in the declaration is disliked by free market-oriented states like the UK and the Czech Republic.

The final, fourth part of the text will mark a "commitment" to take necessary steps in the "reform process" of the EU before 2009, Mr Steinmeier said.

This vague kind of reference to the need for institutional reform was already used by EU leaders in conclusions last June, when dealing with the question of what to do with the disputed EU constitution.

Contrary to what German diplomats had originally envisaged, the text will not mention deadlines for re-negotiating the EU constitution, which was rejected by France and the Netherlands, nor will it refer to words like "constitution" or "constitutional."

Meanwhile, Mr Steinmeier avoided the topic of future enlargement, which had emerged as a subject of controversy surrounding the declaration during an EU leaders' dinner last week, with France opposing explicit calls for further expansion of the bloc.

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