Thursday

9th Apr 2020

Italians present governments with Constitution compromise

  • The document will be debated by foreign ministers in Naples (Photo: EUobserver)

Italy has sent EU governments a basis for a compromise deal on the European Constitution just two days before foreign ministers meet in Naples to hammer out the remaining issues.

The document, over 50 pages long, aims at kick-starting the talks which have become increasingly embittered as governments lay out their 'red-line' positions - areas on which they will not compromise.

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Agreed after a series of bilateral talks with member states by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the document remains very close to the original draft text, drawn up over 16 months by the European Convention.

However, there have been some important changes.

NATO commitments

The document suggests extending qualified majority voting in the area of common foreign and security policy when it follows a proposal by the EU foreign affairs minister.

Also, the article on mutual defence binding member states to help each other in the event of an armed attack - has an additional text outlining commitments to NATO.

Bowing to pressure mainly from the UK, Ireland and the Nordic countries, the document also suggests important changes in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.

The European Public Prosecutor shall now only tackle the financial interests of the European Union while a reference to fighting crime with a cross-border dimension has been taken out.

Flexibility

Similarly the text now makes particular reference to respecting "common law" systems in judicial and criminal co-operation.

Also, following strong lobbying by some of the new member states, particularly Hungary, the text proposes to include a reference to the protection of minority rights in the EU.

Rome is also supporting more flexibility on revision of policy areas in the Constitution.

For its part, the Commission said it "welcomes many parts of the proposals, and will support all Presidency efforts to maintain the balanced result of the Convention".

The European Parliament two representatives in the Constitution talks, Elmar Brok and Klaus Haensch, were also generally upbeat.

"The Presidency has kept its word and respected the principle that the consensus achieved by the Convention cannot be replaced except by another consensus", they said in a joint statement.

The difficult bits

However, the issues that have caused the most headaches around the negotiating table - vote weighting in the Council and the number of Commissioners in the future European Commission - have been left out.

This is a tacit suggestion that foreign ministers will not be allowed to take decisions on these crucial issues - which basically refer to the division of power in a future EU - at their meeting in Naples.

Christianity

Similarly, the Presidency has not yet expressly pronounced on the controversial issue of religion in the Constitution.

However, it says that at a 'later stage' it will propose a text that refers to Europe's Christian Heritage (this is currently not mentioned in the Constitution) as well as to the secular nature of the institutions.

This issue alone has caused heated debate with Poland, Spain and Ireland pushing for a reference to Christianity and France and Belgium equally strongly opposing it.

Smoothing the way

It is hoped that this text, which has been eagerly awaited for weeks, will smooth the way to a final deal on the Constitution at the Brussels Summit of EU leaders on 12 December.

If some of the less controversial issues are agreed by foreign ministers this weekend, EU leaders may have a better chance of signing off on the remaining issues in two weeks at what is expected itself to be a mammoth meeting.

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