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31st Oct 2020

EU constitution talks likely to sideline Brussels

  • There are high expecations of the German EU presidency which faces several pressing issues (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU member states are likely to deal with reviving the EU constitution alone, without involving "Brussels machinery", or else a solution will not be found in time for a 2009 deadline, according to Germany's ambassador to the EU, Wilhelm Schönfelder.

Mr Schönfelder said that Germany, which takes over the six-month EU presidency in January, will try and avoid involving the council, commission and parliament in Brussels to speed up negotiations on the constitution, currently in limbo after being rejected by French and Dutch voters last year.

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"We will keep it out of the Brussels machinery," said the ambassador at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre on Wednesday (6 December) adding that otherwise "you will never come to a solution."

He also said that there will not be another European convention - the body of over hundred politcians including MEPs, MPs, ministers and observers which over a two-year period drew up the EU constitution.

Sounding out opinion

Germany is intending to appoint two "sherpas" - one from the chancellery and one from the foreign ministry - to sound out opinions in member states during the first couple of months of next year.

Berlin will then draw up a three-part report. The first part will analyse the situation in the EU - "in crisis" according to Mr Schönfelder - while the second part will consist of substance and third of procedure and timetable.

The last two parts will only be drawn up once Germany has gathered all the feedback from capitals.

But although the problem "can only be solved at the highest political level with heads of state and government," the fact that it is not clear who will be the leaders of France and the UK next summer while other governments such as in the Czech Republic and Hungary are troubled is adding to Germany's difficulties.

This political uncertainty will make it even more difficult to stick to the tight timetable.

Ratification again?

Mid-2009 has been set as a deadline for ratification of the new constitution - mainly because the current Nice Treaty anyway requires certain institutional changes from 2009.

Mr Schönfelder said that this means member states need to know what they have to ratify "by the end of 2007" as it takes "at least one year to ratify."

He said he believed this would mean having a short "technical" intergovernmental conference to agree a new-look constitution during the Portuguese presidency in the second half of 2007 and suggested that all member states would probably have to ratify the text - also those who have already approved the current text.

Currently, this would mean 16 countries going through ratification for a second time.

"That's what I imagine could be the outcome," said the ambassador stressing that it was his personal opinion.

Mr Schönfelder said he hoped the fact that 2008 and 2009 will bring about further difficult issues – such as reducing the number of commissioners as required under the Nice Treaty, or a review of the bloc's farm policy – would spur member states to reach a consensus on the EU constitution in 2007.

"If we do not succeed then this thing will be dead", he said of the charter adding that the EU would then be in a "very deep crisis" and not just a "crisis."

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