18th Sep 2019

Subdued ceremony for Europe's first Constitution

It could not have been due to the wine, nor to the hospitality in Rome or even the weather – that was all fine.

But somehow the mood was not quite right. Happy smiles were all but absent as EU leaders on Friday (29 October) signed their names to the future European Constitution,

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  • The Constitution is now to be ratified in all of the 25 EU member states before 1 November 2006 (Photo: Dutch EU Presidency)

The institution crisis sparked over José Manuel Durao Barroso’s new Commission was clearly overshadowing the event.

Changes Commission

However, there were no formal discussions today on how to get the new Commission into place – it was due to take up office on Monday (1 November).

Incoming head of the Commission Mr Barroso announced at a press conference that he is now to go back to some prime ministers in order to make changes to his team – which has fallen from grace mainly due to the controversial Italian Commission Rocco Buttiglione.

He refused to give any indication of a timeframe for these consultations, but said he would in "due time present a team which can get strong backing from the European Parliament."

It was parliament that earlier this week forced Mr Barroso to postpone a vote of confidence after it became clear that he and his team would probably not have received the backing of a majority of MEPs.

Forming a European Commission is very different to setting up a new government, Mr Barroso admitted.

The Commissioners appointed by the national governments were not known to Mr Barroso when he was frist putting his team together during the summer: "It was like a blind date", he said.

It is now likely that one Commissioner from each of the main political families – the centre-right, the Socialists and the Liberals - will have to be changed.

Perspectives for Europe

The signing ceremony took place in the same room where the Treaty of Rome was signed to establish the EU in 1957.

A bronze statue of a former Pope watched benignly over the formalities – an apt reminder of the discussion in recent weeks over religion and state – Mr Buttiglione is a strong Catholic and has referred to his drumming in the press and by MEPs as another "inquisition".

47 years ago, only six flags were flying outside the Palazzo dei Conservatori, today there were 28 – including the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish flags - as leaders of these three applicant countries also signed the documents.

Croatian leaders were also present, but did not sign.

EU leaders did their best to draw attention to how symbolic the event was and what lay ahead for Europe in the future.

"Our signatures are not a finishing touch, but a new beginning" said the Dutch prime minister and head of the EU council, Jan Peter Balkenende.

At least eleven countries are set to submit the Constitution to a referendum over the next two years – the prospect of this difficult job also added to the gloomy faces at the signature table.

"In good an honest discussion, I think it is possible to convince the people", said Mr Balkenende at a press conference.

"We shall commit ourselves to ensuring that Italy ratifies the new Treaty without delay", said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Beyond the existing Treaties

President of the Commission Romano Prodi pointed out that the new Constitution goes beyond the existing Treaties.

"The innovative content of the social rights, which are now recognised as primary legislation, and the new social clauses introduced in the Constitution are clear steps forward", he said.

Mr Prodi also warned governments of letting the public debate be overshadowed by questions of national politics.

Knowing he is perhaps facing the hardest task of all to convince his sceptical public, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair left Rome in a hurry, directly after the signing ceremony.

The only truly happy people in Italy’s capital were the 7,000 police and security forces guarding Rome's streets.

They had a very easy task as not one single demonstration took place all day.

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