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28th May 2022

Blair pushes to drop EU constitution

UK prime minister Tony Blair has said that the EU should not be looking to resurrect a new constitution but should rather focus on getting workable rules for the bloc.

"It is important we go back to the idea of a conventional treaty where the idea is to make Europe more effective, work more effectively, because we now have a Europe of 27 countries rather than 15," Mr Blair said on Monday (15 April) after a meeting in London with Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende.

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He added that he fully supported the Dutch approach to the issue which he said proposes the "idea of a conventional amending treaty rather than a treaty with the characteristics of a constitution."

"There's all the difference in the world between a constitutional treaty that is an attempt to consolidate... to write all the rules of the European Union, to give rise to a whole new set of legal principles - and an amending treaty within the existing European treaties that makes the rules work more effectively."

The statement is the clearest indication yet from Downing Street of what sort of document London wants to see emerge from the revived treaty negotiations.

The position of the UK, with its traditionally ambivalent relations toward the EU, is seen as crucial to the shape of any new document, set to replace the original EU constitution rejected almost two years ago by French and Dutch voters.

Mr Blair's stance also puts him in the same camp as the Czech Republic, Poland and the leading candidate in the French elections, Nicolas Sarkozy - all pushing for pragmatic, institution-related reform.

The advantage of having a scaled down treaty in the eyes of the governments promoting it is that it would then be possible to avoid an unpredictable referendum in favour of the less politically hazardous parliamentary route.

"If we do not have the characteristics of a constitution, that is also relevant to the question of do you have a referendum or not," said Mr Balkenende.

"If we are going to a conclusion in June, it is important to say we will work in the direction of an amended treaty," he said of the summit in two months time when EU leaders are to discuss a timetable for agreeing a new treaty.

Schism

German chancellor and current head of the EU, Angela Merkel, will need superior political skills to bridge the gap between the small and big treaty camps ahead of the summit.

She is starting the process by meeting the eurosceptic Czech president Vaclav Klaus in Berlin today (17 April).

Informal meetings are also expected with the Netherlands and Poland - other governments seen as being against the constitution, according to Czech news agency CTK.

But on the other side of the fence, there are the 18 countries that have already largely ratified the rejected document - with some of them wanting the treaty to cover more areas rather than less.

"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 from it," said Spain's Europe minister Alberto Navarro following a meeting of the "friends of the constitution" countries in January.

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