17th Jan 2019

Belgium set to ratify EU constitution

Hopes of a revival of the EU constitution were boosted on Wednesday after the regional parliament of Flanders cleared the last hurdle for Belgium's ratification of the charter, while Estonian MPs also moved closer to ratifying the text.

Belgium is close to becoming the 14th EU country to ratify the EU constitution, after deputies of the northern Flemish region on Wednesday (8 February) approved the charter.

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The consent of the Flemish parliament represented the last hurdle for the federal state of Belgium to formally ratify the text.

The constitutional treaty was endorsed by a large majority of 84 Flemish MPs voting in favour, 29 voting against and one MP abstaining.

Far-right Vlaams Belang deputies rejected the charter and one Green MP abstained arguing there had not been enough societal debate over the constitution.

The news of Belgium's upcoming ratification comes as a boost to supporters of the constitution, which was put on ice by EU leaders last year following negative outcomes of French and Dutch referendums over the document.

UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff, author of a European Parliament report aimed at reviving the charter, stated according to AFP "Now the constitution has been ratified by 14 member states representing a majority of the citizens of the Union."

Pat Cox, a former president of the European Parliament currently leading the European Movement International, indicated "By ratifiying the constitution today, the Flemish and Belgian authorities send a strong signal that for them the constitution is not dead and that Europe needs to implement the main improvements it would bring in order to function in the Union of 25."

Belgian federalism

However, Flemish media note that one last hurdle still needs to be breached.

The Flemish prime minister Yves Leterme said that his government will only endorse the Flemish parliament's vote if Belgium's regions clinch a deal on the application of the subsidiarity or "early warning" clause in the constitution.

This provision states that the European Commission should review a legislative proposal, if at least one third of national parliaments send a "reasoned opinion" arguing that the proposal falls outside the commission's mandate.

Belgian regional parliaments are currently wrangling on how this mechanism should work in the Belgian federal context.

But Belgian media indicate that this very last hurdle will not form a serious obstacle.

The EU constitution had to be ratified by seven parliaments in Belgium: apart from the Flemish parliament, the parliament of the French-speaking Wallonia region, the parliament of the French Community, that of the German-speaking community, the parliament of bilingual Brussels, as well as the Belgian federal parliament and the senate.

Estonia starts ratification

Meanwhile, French media report that Estonian parliamentarians on Wednesday kicked off a second reading of the constitution in parliament.

"With this ratification process we are showing other EU member states that the constitution is needed by the EU," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told AFP.

The head of the Estonian parliament’s constitutional affairs committee Urmas Reinsalu said he expected MPs to ratify the treaty early next year.

"We wish to indicate to the 10 or so countries which are still hesitating on the treaty to take positive action too," Mr Reinsalu was quoted as saying.

Danish march

Danish eurosceptic as well as europhile politicians will on Thursday (9 February) debate their visions about a future EU with ordinary people, in an attempt to make the union's agenda visible to its citizens.

Under the name of "Citizens' Agenda", representatives from eight organisations from the whole political spectrum in Denmark will meet for a joint march towards the central stations in both the capital Copenhagen and Denmark's second city Aarhus.

"This is only the starting shot... it is important that we get the debate about the future of Europe among all residents," campaign organiser Lave Knud Broch of the "Folkebevægelsen mod EU" (The people's movement against the EU) said before the march on Thursday.

MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

The EU parliament's internal chiefs have so far refused to introduce mandatory training on dealing with sexual harassment. MEPs have now asked for it again.

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.

Razor-edge victory for more lobbying transparency at EP

New rules to force MEPs chairing committees or drafting reports to publish meetings with registered lobbyists took a step closer to reality. The measure was narrowly backed 11 to 10 at the constitutional affairs committee but still needs plenary approval.

Leading MEP defends expenses secrecy

The man tasked with making the EP more transparent has said there are more important issues than making MEP monthly expenses public.

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