23rd Jan 2020

MEPs to seek influence over EU constitution talks

MEPs' resolve will be tested during the coming weeks as they fight to get more of a say on the EU constitution and a planned European declaration in March.

Current EU presidency Germany has so far indicated it will sideline the European Parliament focussing instead only on canvassing government opinion on the two key issues over the coming months.

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As part of the streamlined approach, chancellor Angela Merkel has sent a letter to member states asking that only heads of state and government and certain nominated officials should handle the thorny constitutional question, which sees 18 member states having largely ratified the document, two having rejected it and several likely tricky ratifications to come.

Working to a tight timetable which would see the charter agreed at the latest in the second half of 2008, under France's EU watch, Berlin does not want to be dragged into broad discussions with the Brussels institutions, possibly derailing its orchestrated schedule.

The close knit approach is also set to be applied to the EU's 50 year anniversary declaration in March, a statement that Germany believes is closely bound to talks on the EU constitution.

While other capitals are to be consulted on the text concerning layout and general content, Berlin itself will be responsible for drawing up the bulk of the declaration.

This government-only tactic is already causing some concern in the EU capital.


Communications commissioner Margot Wallström recently told the Brussels weekly, European Voice, that Berlin should be wary of trying to secure a quick backroom deal on the EU constitution, ignoring citizens' views.

"You cannot disregard citizens. It is important to make sure the renegotiation is not only about horse-trading behind closed doors."

"I know the German presidency says that there should be not be too many people involved in the negotiation, but we could invite the European Parliament, national parliaments, civil society, to show that we welcome contributions on the future of Europe," she continued.

But Berlin is unlikely to back down on the issue believing it is the only way to a secure a timely deal on the bloc's pressing institution problems – which are to peak in 2009 when current treaty rules demand a change.

The first public test for MEPs will come on Wednesday when the chancellor presents her views on the upcoming presidency to the Strasbourg plenary.

With the next president of the parliament likely to be the German Hans-Gert Pöttering, and head of the socialists also a German – Martin Schultz – there may be some room for political leverage on the two issues.

The German axis

Some MEPs certainly think so.

"If anybody is going to make sure we have an influence on this [anniversary] declaration, it's Pöttering, or a combination of Pöttering and Schulz' lobbying," said Liberal leader Graham Watson last week.

The MEPs' struggle on this issue is especially interesting because it comes as the Brussels assembly finds itself with less and less to do.

The European Commission has slowed down its legislative output, taking away the bread and butter of MEPs' everyday activities.

Being actively part of the future of the EU debate would give the assembly something to get its teeth into, pasting over the fact that aside from energy and justice issues - where MEPs have little say - the parliament is looking at a relatively barren 2007.


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