22nd Apr 2019

Czech foreign minister backs EU constitution revival

Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda has suggested that a short declaration on EU goals linked to the constitution could be the trick needed to revive the document, after Prague put ratification on ice following the French and Dutch referendums.

"We should prepare a short text that would spell out to the citizens what the EU currently means to them," said Mr Svoboda in an interview with EUobserver.

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"Such a declaration should not be another Lisbon agenda - meaning an endless text that nobody would read. Instead, it should only contain two to three pages that would help citizens realize what the EU means for trade, security and prosperity," he added.

Mr Svoboda believes that the EU constitution became "hostage" to several other issues debated during the pre-referendum campaigns in both France and the Netherlands, as well as of competing ideas on what the union really stands for.

"A declaration like this would focus people's attention on what they want the EU to be," he explained, adding that the mere institutional and legal aspects of its organisation should be left to experts.

"When you think about it, we should not even expect everyone to read the whole constitution as it is boring, like all international agreements – I can't imagine someone would read such a document before they go to sleep."

"But it was written by experienced people who know what the EU needs in terms of decision-making...and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we will not come up with anything better - the text we have put together is the best compromise we could get," he noted.

Minor changes without lengthy debate

Mr Svoboda's idea is similar to a proposal recently floated by German chancellor Angela Merkel who has been engaged in talks with Paris on how to put the constitution back on the political agenda.

Ms Merkel has proposed a non-binding declaration on the "social dimension of Europe" to be attached the failed EU constitution, which would call upon the bloc's institutions to better consider the social implications of EU internal market legislation.

Centre-right EU leaders will this week tackle the issue at a European People's Party congress in Rome where Mr Svoboda is in the running to become vice-president of the party.

He said the possibility of a short text linked to the EU constitution and then potentially put back to referendums in France and the Netherlands has been "at least considered as one way out of the current situation" in other European capitals as well.

Apart from the declaration, Mr Svoboda argues milder changes could be made to the EU charter - such as dropping its lengthy part III, which lists the bloc's policies.

But he argues the EU should definitely avoid another long debate as a similar text might emerge at the end – and one that still needs popular backing.

Instead, the declaration agreed by national leaders and parliaments should make clear what the EU is and should be and then ask citizens: "Do you want to reach these goals that we introduce in this document? We do, so let’s get together and agree to reach these goals and one of the tools needed to achieve them is this constitution."

In his own country, Mr Svoboda is in favour of the Czech parliament taking decision on the document, as it is not an issue of the country's sovereignty.

"The constitution does not represent a deeper level of integration than what was agreed by Czech citizens in the referendum when our country was joining the EU and so another referendum on the constitution is not needed," he said.

EU and Belarus

The Czech foreign minister has been a strong supporter of the EU's sanctions against the regime of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Last week he argued in favour of widening a list of people banned from travelling to Europe, topped by the Belarusian president himself, which EU leaders eventually agreed to last Friday (24 March).

Mr Svoboda says the move is a crucial message to the Belarusian president's aides.

"I've been to Belarus three times and often met people that support Lukashenko. What they desire most is to take holidays in the Swiss Alps, play tennis in Wimbledon or dress in Paris."

"They long for life in our society and they can meet those desires while suppressing the political rights of other Belarusian people."

"So for me it is clear these officials should not get visas – why should they have these advantages if they were gained by suppressing the freedoms of others?" argues Mr Svoboda.

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