23rd Oct 2021

Commissioner criticises Berlin's constitutional revival method

  • "Without engaging the citizens, this project will never succeed" (Photo: European Community, 2006)

EU communications commissioner Margot Wallström has voiced concern at plans by the German EU presidency to only involve governments in the revived talks on the bloc's constitution.

Berlin "has to invite and open up and say this is not something that will go on only behind closed doors…they might even get some good ideas from civil society groups or anyone with an interest [in the constitution]," the commissioner told EUobserver in Berlin after a communications conference on Friday (19 January).

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"Without engaging the citizens, this project will never succeed. You have to anchor it with ordinary citizens and especially if there are to be more referenda," she added.

Her comments come after Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear to MEPs last week that she did not intend to have broad consultations on the constitution, rather focussing on confidential talks with governments to speed up the process.

Ms Wallström admitted that in the end few people are likely to actually put pen to paper to draft the new-look document but pressed for as many people as possible to be involved until the drafting moment.

"I think that everyone realises that…if you want to write a declaration of this kind – that has to be a short snappy document with some political weight - you cannot have too many people involved in the specific drafting of it."

"But they have to signal that until that moment where they have to sit down and actually do the drafting they are always willing to listen."

The Swedish commissioner also said she was against the idea of an EU-wide referendum on the constitution saying that the bloc has many different democratic traditions on the issue. "I don't think this is realistic at all."

In Germany, it is against the law to hold referendums at the federal level while in some countries – such as Denmark and Ireland – a referendum is obligatory for issues concerning the country's sovereignty.

Speaking more generally about the EU and how it is communicated to citizens, Ms Wallström once again criticised ministers from across the 27-member union accusing them of blaming Brussels for issues that are difficult to sell at home.

"I've been a minister myself, I know exactly the temptation of going home and explain - hopefully always - that you have actually won against Brussels."

"[The EU] is a huge compromise machine that works on a weekly basis where ministers meet," she said, adding that "sometimes you have to take responsibility and more often you have to take the responsibility to explain why this compromise was a good thing for Europe and how this happened."

"You cannot do one thing in Brussels and then go home and pretend or defend something else," Ms Wallström stressed. "I think this is too often the case as it is today."

In defence of commissioners

Ms Wallström also commented on a recent debate, started by German commissioner Günter Verheugen, that smaller member states should give up their commissioners to make the EU commission function more smoothly, amid discussion that it has become too unwieldy with 27 members.

"The fact that we are more commissioners has not affected our work in a negative way," she said.

On the contrary, we have been able to actually deliver more," she went on adding that instead of changing the amount of commissioners, the Brussels executive should rather become more flexible in working across different policies.

"Commissioners from small member states are doing a great job and have important portfolios," she said.

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