2nd Oct 2023

Germany sends letter to salvage EU constitution

  • Angela Merkel - Germany is upping the political tempo on the EU constitution talks (Photo: German EU presidency)

German chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated Berlin is going to leave as much of the EU constitution intact as possible making only the minimum changes needed to get sceptical nations such as the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic on board.

British media over the weekend gave details of a leaked letter by Mrs Merkel in which she says "Every effort will have to be made to restrict change to what is absolutely necessary to reach an overall agreement and to ensure ratification by all member states."

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The letter, quoted in The Times, shows the pragmatic line that Berlin is taking in an effort to get reluctant nations on board but also to make sure that the 18 countries that have already largely ratified the document are catered for.

For its part, the German government has denied reports of a letter from Mrs Merkel. "There is no such letter from the chancellor to her counterparts," deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said on Saturday, according to Spiegel Online.

But it has not denied asking 12 crucial questions of national governments, with a summit fast approaching in June where member states will be asked to lay their cards on the political table and agree a timetable and a basic frame of reference for the treaty.

The 12 questions attempt to put together some of the suggestions that member states have made for altering the constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago.

Some of the questions include purely cosmetic changes such as altering the name of the proposed EU foreign minister - the Czech government recently brought this issue up - as well as dropping the symbols of the EU - the flag, hymn and logo - something which the Dutch are in favour of.

Berlin also asks if enlargement criteria should be included in a future treaty and if there should be a reference to the social dimension of Europe - France strongly supports this - as well as whether countries should be able to opt in or out of future provisions of the treaty.

This model has been used in previous treaties with Denmark being granted an opt out from the single currency, defence policy, EU citizenship and justice and home affairs after it rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992.

The chancellor's questions, reported in the Swedish website Europaportalen, also ask whether to "replace the full text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by a short cross reference having the same legal value."

Taking up an important suggestion by UK prime minister Tony Blair, question number two indirectly asks whether the constitution could be presented as a document that is amending the 2001 Nice Treaty.

"How do you assess in that case the proposal made by some Member States that the consolidated approach of part 1 of the Constitutional Treaty is preserved, with the necessary presentational changes resulting from the return to the classical method of treaty changes?" asks the chancellor.

The German leader has upped the tempo around the constitution and is due to meet EU leaders bilaterally over the coming weeks to see if she can smooth out as many of the difficulties as possible before the June summit.

Under Berlin's timetable, there will be a short intergovernmental conference in the second half of this year, with ratification by member states planned in 2008 and the whole exercise wrapped up by the European elections in mid 2009.


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