Rome concerned over Blair's exit impact for EU constitution talks
Italian and Spanish leaders have voiced their full support for salvaging the EU constitution, indicating they could join Germany as the big country frontrunners pushing for the charter's revival.
Meeting on the Balearic island of Ibiza on Tuesday (20 February), Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi and his Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised the current German EU presidency for trying to move from "a phase of stagnation to a time of initiative" on the European constitution.
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The document, originally signed by all member states, was put on ice after its rejection by French and Dutch voters in spring 2005 but is now back on the political agenda.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to come up with a timetable for negotiation of a way out of the constitutional impasse and present it to the whole union in June.
Mr Prodi and Mr Zapatero - representing two of the 18 countries that have ratified the charter - called for a solution which would preserve the "essence" of the existing text along with minimum changes making it acceptable to states that have not yet ratified it, according to press reports.
"Our goal is to maintain the essential idea of achieving a more united and efficient Europe with new ways of working," the Spanish leader said.
The new EU constitution streamlines all the previous treaties and introduces changes that are seen as making the enlarged bloc more effective and transparent, such as a simpler voting system and a permanent presidency instead of the current six-month rotating system.
Clouds over June summit
Berlin has launched a series of confidential talks with government officials to find out where the problem areas are with Mrs Merkel planning to present the revival plan at the EU's June summit - just before Portugal takes over the bloc's chair.
But while European leaders are set to be joined at the meeting by a new French president - the winner of the April and May elections - it could also be the last Brussels session for the UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The British leader has announced he will step down from office before the new parliamentary elections in his country, with finance minister Gordon Brown most likely to replace him, leading other countries to speculate on what this will mean for the constitution negotiations.
Italian interior minister Giuliano Amato said the June summit would probably not produce more than a mandate for a future inter-governmental conference on a new treaty.
"One of the reasons why I'm not sure whether this dream of mine might come true in June is the British transition, because the British prime minister on that occasion might meet some difficulty committing his country for the future," Mr Amato said at the London School of Economics on Tuesday (20 February), according to Reuters.
"People are not ready as yet to come out with their real arguments. So there is a general goodwill in restoring the debate and see[ing] where we can go from here, but the final destination is still in my view obscure," he added.
Mr Amato said the UK's position is "crucial for Europe", stressing "These islands are an essential part of Europe. They should stop thinking of themselves as the 'Highlanders'. Like it or not, they [the British] are Europeans."