Austria gives peek into June 'constitution summit'
Stressing popular values like sexual equality and daring new projects like a European fire brigade could help revive the EU constitution, Austrian leader Wolfgang Schussel said on Tuesday (9 May).
The pro-constitution chancellor set out his stall in a Brussels debate on the future of Europe just five weeks before the Austrian presidency chairs a 15-16 June summit set to be dominated by the frozen EU charter.
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"The constitution treaty is the most successful attempt we've had so far to build on the achievements of the past 50 years," he said. "The way things stand, I don't see a better option."
The chancellor contrasted the fact that 16 member states support the constitution with the two French and Dutch rejections last year, hitting a more positive note than the European Commission, which described the satus quo as "lack of consensus among member states."
The best way to rebuild public support for the draft EU charter is to highlight that it has "enshrined" values such as gender equality "which are the sacred legacy of the European Union," Mr Schussel stated.
"A lot of the issues our citizens want us to deal with have already been dealt with," he explained. "This social dimension of Europe, which would be guaranteed by our constitution, I deem of crucial and vital importance."
On top of this, the June summit should set out a "roadmap for seven or eight projects with concrete timetables" that have "symbolic resonance" in Europe's coffee house and kitchen sink political debate.
"We need to show that Europe is acting together," the chancellor indicated, envisioning European firefighters working together on Mediterranean forest blazes in line with a new report on crisis management by ex-French foreign minister Michel Barnier.
Mr Schussel admitted that 2005 was "catastrophic" for the EU in public opinion terms, setting the stakes high for the future of Europe debate:
"If we don't win over the public to this project, then Europe has come to an end."
But he saw room for optimism in the latest "schizophrenic" Eurobarometer survey which showed that, while fewer than half of people like being in the EU, two thirds see it as a peaceful and modern place to live.
"Something is happening in the [public] subconscious that is not being taken into account at the rational level," he said.