Spain pushes for extended EU constitution
In a speech to open the 'Friends of EU constitution' meeting in Madrid, Spain's foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos argued that any revised treaty should be extended to include more European objectives rather than pared down to just institutional reforms.
Delegates from the 18 countries that have ratified the EU constitution plus its strong supporters - Ireland and Portugal - have gathered in a cultural centre - usually used for hosting events related to Latin America - to outline their positions on the future of the European treaty.
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In line with the motto of the meeting and the key idea to be highlighted in the forthcoming statement - "Por una Europa mejor", for a better Europe, Mr Moratinos reiterated that the current treaty is an "excellent document".
"We have met here to have our voice heard. Because it cannot be simply ignored that 18 countries ratified this constitution and some of them even after the negative outcome of referendums in France and the Netherlands."
Luxembourg's Europe minister Nicolas Schmit - representing the country that adopted the constitution by popular vote following the French and Dutch polls - said "I am convinced that we all should be in position to back the project that takes us forward."
For his part, Mr Moratinos said that while a debate about possible changes to the form and content of the constitution often boils down to statements suggesting that only the core of the text should be retained, "not everybody views this core and what constitutes it in the same way."
"We all agree that the union requires institutional reforms in order to adapt to enlargement. These reforms are necessary, but far from sufficient to ensure the future of the union."
He went on to suggest that Spain prefers a "bold proposal, though not a rushed one" rather than a proposal aimed at the lowest common denominator, with several delegates - such as Belgium's secretary of European affairs - set to suggest that the current constitution already represents a "minimum minimorum".
Mr Moratinos proposed that a new extended text could include provisions on subjects such as enlargement criteria, immigration, energy, climate change, defence policy and a European social space.
"It is clear we will probably need to negotiate its [the constitution's] modification. But Spain would seek to complete it rather than piece it up."
However, during a debate following his speech, most of the delegates maintained that any future modifications should be just minimal.
Don't touch this text
"We are all firmly behind this text, so don't touch it - that was the main message from most delegations," one observer told EUobserver.
"Also, almost everybody called for the two countries that have seen a negative referendum outcome to say clearly what their position is."
He added that most countries also highlighted their support for the German presidency and its plan to salvage the constitution by 2009, while stressing that today's meeting was not supposed to divide Europe into two camps.
Asked by journalists if he was bothered that the meeting was being attended only by lower-level officials, Spain's foreign minister said this was his country's plan from the start.