Germany wants EU constitution in place by 2009
By Honor Mahony
Germany has thrown its political weight behind reviving the EU constitution, indicating it would like to see the shelved charter in place before the 2009 European Parliament elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin would start the process of reviving the document - currently sitting in political limbo since it was rejected in two referendums last year - during its six-month presidency of the EU, starting in January.
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Mrs Merkel stated Germany would kick off the process in the form of a "road map" but not bring the process to an end.
"We will not be able to complete this issue in our presidency, but we want to do our part to reach an agreement that we need such a constitution," said the chancellor after meeting European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Berlin on Wednesday (11 October).
"The German presidency should set the goal to agree to a timeframe, a road map, a plan of how to proceed and I would like to say that we will be very ambitious in our approach to the issue," she said, noting that "we need the treaty before the next European elections."
Her comments follow those of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who earlier told the Bild newspaper that "We are convinced that the constitution makes Europe more transparent, more tangible and more effective."
Once again, Mrs Merkel indicated she was opposed to the treaty being cut down into a possibly more politically acceptable, streamlined version – putting her at a counterpoint to the French presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently proposed a mini-treaty, as well as to the group of politicians, led by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, who are looking into ways of getting the constitution back on track.
"It should be a structure that is deserving of the word constitutional treaty," she said.
Commission in support role
For his part, Mr Barroso, in Berlin to discuss Germany's stint at the helm of the EU, praised the plans and offered his support.
"I really believe we have a great programme for the German presidency," Barroso said. "We were discussing some of the issues in detail and we are going to work hand-in-hand with the German presidency to make it a success."
Mr Barroso recently put the constitution issue firmly back on the political agenda by saying that the EU could not expand further unless its institutions were reformed first.
This was seen in some quarters as a challenge to Germany, which supports Croatia's EU bid and with Zagreb to suffer the immediate fallout from the statement.
Energy and jobs
Other themes set to feature strongly under Germany's watch are the EU's fledgling energy policy and making Europe more competitive.
Berlin also wants to advance the discussion on the European social model - a hot topic that has featured throughout the current commission's tenure and particularly in the run up to the French referendum on the constitution.
Beyond the EU, the bloc's relations with its neighbours to the east is to be a major topic with Berlin pushing for a revamp of the bloc's policy in this area.