9th Apr 2020

No extra time for Giscard

  • Greek prime minister, COSTAS SIMITIS currently heading the EU presidency admitted that the time was short and the "result might not be the best possible". (Photo: EUobserver)

The Convention on the future of Europe must end its work by 20 June and present the result of its work in the form of a constitutional treaty to the EU summit in Thessaloniki.

This was the clear message from the heads of state at the European Union meeting in Athens today, 16 April. A presentation of the work-in-progress by the Convention was already scheduled for the March Spring Council in Brussels, but due to the crisis in Iraq the agenda was altered. So, the president of the Convention Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was asked to come to Greece to report on the work.

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Mr Giscard would have liked to continue the work into the Autumn and the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis currently heading the EU presidency admitted that the timeline was short and the "result might not be the best possible".

The Convention president said he would follow the orders of the heads of state and present the new Treaty on 20 June. He expressed the hope that "it would satisfy not only governments but also the citizens".

The heads of state would like to give instruction to an Intergovernmental Conference, which will fine-tune the constitution, at the Thessalonica summit. The aim is to finalise negotiations at the Rome Summit in December 2003.

For the Italians, taking over the six-month rotating EU presidency from Greece on 1 July, the time schedule has top priority, as the ultimate criteria for success for the Italians is to have the original Rome Treaty, which established the EEC in 1957, replaced by a new Rome Constitution.

The difficult presidency question

The Convention president pointed out that many issues had already been settled by the Convention. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be included in the Constitution, the legislation procedures of the Union will be simplified and reduced to five procedures with simpler names. The laws and the role of national parliaments has also been defined, Mr Giscard said. The Union will also have a single legal personality.

Two central themes are still splitting the European Union members. A number of mainly large member states, as well as Denmark and Sweden, see the need for more permanency in the Council presidencies to replace the current rotation of presidencies between the member states every six months. This has been refused by a group of 18 smaller countries who strongly support keeping the rotating presidency structure.

"The number of states but also the number of citizens must be taken into consideration", commented Mr Giscard. "The majority of the population is in favour of more stable presidencies", he added and pointed out that two small countries had said they were also in favour of longer presidencies.

While there are only six large EU members in the enlarged Union, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, UK and Poland, they also have a larger population than all the other member states put together.

Balance of power

The second unsolved topic concerns the number of future Commissioners. The number of Commissioners will grow when the EU is enlarged and the larger countries believe there will be too many Commissioners for the number of portfolios; they also feel the threat of being in the minority following the entry of so many new small states into the Union.

With the Nice Treaty, each of the larger countries lost their second Commissioner so they will now only have one - just as the smaller countries. This is not good enough for the larger states.

Mr Giscard said in a press conference after the talks in Athens that the new member states were beginning to recognize that the system will not support the current structure and that they will not each have a Commissioner but will have to accept rotation in the Commission.


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