Berlin and Paris in talks on EU constitution revival
German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Jacques Chirac are engaged in confidential talks aimed at re-submitting the core of the EU constitution to French and Dutch voters, according to a German weekly.
Spiegel Online reports in a preview of the Spiegel weekly printed edition that conservatives from Germany, France and the European Parliament are plotting a scheme for reviving the EU constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums last year.
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According to the plans, the charter should be reduced to its first two parts, setting out the EU’s competences and the charter of fundamental rights of the union.
These core parts should be boosted with the addition of a political declaration and be put to a fresh poll in both France and the Netherlands.
The remaining third part of the text, detailing the EU’s policies, should be ratified by the French and Dutch parliaments, completing the ratification of the entire constitution as it has been approved by 14 member states so far.
The operation to resuscitate the charter would be started under the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007.
Der Spiegel’s report is in line with earlier reports from Berlin, but raises questions about Paris' position on the issue.
Ms Merkel earlier proposed attaching a declaration on the "social dimension of Europe" to the failed EU constitution, in a bid to save the charter in its entirety.
The non-binding declaration would call upon the EU institutions consider the social implications of EU internal market legislation more thoroughly and is seen as being designed to soothe French voters’ fears over the alleged neo-liberal character of the union.
But French conservative politicians in favour of the constitution seem reluctant to put the charter to voters a second time - instead preferring the adoption of single elements of the treaty.
British media reported last month that president Chirac would like to see a stronger role for Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who would be asked to effectively operate as the union’s foreign minister as envisaged in the EU constitution.
But Mr Chirac's recent statements have mainly indicated an interest in new EU action in concrete policy areas under the union's existing treaties, instead of new constitutional designs.
Mr Chirac's main political rival, French interior minister and presidential-hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, favours a more institutional approach.
Mr Sarkozy last month proposed a three-stage plan for a better-functioning union on the basis of the ideas of the EU constitution.
According to Mr Sarkozy, the EU could implement a number of proposals in the constitution enjoying a "large consensus," such as the new system of voting weights, a limiting of the national veto, creation of an EU foreign minister and increased checks against over-regulation by national parliaments.
Referring to the negative outcome of last year's French referendum on the constitution, Mr Sarkozy said "I will not be the one who will tell the French that they have misunderstood the question."
But supporters of the constitution hope that the French 2007 presidential election will change the political landscape and pave the way for a fresh referendum on the constitution.