Thursday

9th Apr 2020

EU Constitution given positive send off

The EU's draft Constitution was given a positive send-off by its craftsmen at a final ceremony to mark the end of the Convention on Europe's Future.

In a festive atmosphere, tinged with relief at finally having got the job done, speakers from among the 105 delegates paid tribute to their handiwork.

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Several of the speakers focussed on whether the Constitution would still be in place during their grandchildren's lives - while as many again warned EU leaders against taking apart their painfully constructed compromise when the intergovernmental conference starts later this year.

The best that could be done

Most delegates agreed that the resulting compromise was the most that could be achieved at this point in Europe's history and argued that future generations will be able to go even further towards a political union.

Convention President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, whose autocratic and forceful style prevented the whole process from derailing at times during the past year, said:

"I am proud to have been your president, to have led our ship, at times through the fog, at times through the cold and over the waves - but we have come safely into port".

"In one's life, one is, if one is lucky, permitted once or twice to make a difference, to touch the hem of history. Together we have had that chance".

Lucky tortoises

He stole the show during his speech by paying a special tribute to his ceramic green tortoise Wukei.

Symbolising longevity and prudence, Wukei has been present at most of the sessions since its first appearance in July last year - after this speech, Mr Giscard pretended to feed it lettuce for its good work.

Vice-presidents Giuliano Amato and Jean-Luc Dehaene also got some lettuce - as well as warm tributes.

UK labour MP Gisela Stuart summed up the feeling on the occasion for several. "Our responsibility is not to the past; it is to the future ... I pray that history may judge us kindly".

It was "an experience of great human value", said Mr Amato.

Dissenting voices

There were some dissenting voices. Green MEP Johannes Voggenhuber, who was a harsh but good-natured critic throughout the 16 months, wished the draft could have gone further - "You don't expect me to change my obstinate character", he offered.

Equally critical but for different reasons were Danish MEP Jens Peter Bonde and UK Conservative MP David Heathcoat Amory.

"Congratulations to the new superstate," said Mr Bonde. The new constitution will "add to the democratic deficit", he said.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory called the result simply a "politicians' Europe". Both added a reference to an alternative document they have drawn up under their final signatures.

The road to Rome

Mr Giscard will deliver the draft to the Italian Presidency in Rome next week (18 July). An inter-governmental conference to tie up any loose ends will begin mid-October and will finish before the European Parliament elections in June 2004.

The Constitution is then set to be signed in Rome to create a new Treaty of Rome to replace the current one from 1957.

MAIN ELEMENTS OF THE CONSTITUTION

* Permanent president of the European Council – replaces the current six month rotating system

* Creation of the post of foreign minister

* From 2009, there will be 15 voting commissioners and 15 non-voting commissioners – to be rotated on an equal basis

* From 2009, the complicated qualified majority voting system will be changed to a simple majority of member states representing 3/5 of the population

* The Union shall have a legal personality

* The supremacy of Union law over national law is written down for the first time

* The Charter of Fundamental Rights is legally binding

* Eurozone countries get more powers and possibility to elect their own president for two years

* Co-decision between the European Parliament and member states will become the general rule

* New powers for the Union in areas such as asylum and immigration, energy, space research and energy

* Member states will be bound by a terrorism solidarity clause

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