Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

Blair pushes to drop EU constitution

UK prime minister Tony Blair has said that the EU should not be looking to resurrect a new constitution but should rather focus on getting workable rules for the bloc.

"It is important we go back to the idea of a conventional treaty where the idea is to make Europe more effective, work more effectively, because we now have a Europe of 27 countries rather than 15," Mr Blair said on Monday (15 April) after a meeting in London with Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

He added that he fully supported the Dutch approach to the issue which he said proposes the "idea of a conventional amending treaty rather than a treaty with the characteristics of a constitution."

"There's all the difference in the world between a constitutional treaty that is an attempt to consolidate... to write all the rules of the European Union, to give rise to a whole new set of legal principles - and an amending treaty within the existing European treaties that makes the rules work more effectively."

The statement is the clearest indication yet from Downing Street of what sort of document London wants to see emerge from the revived treaty negotiations.

The position of the UK, with its traditionally ambivalent relations toward the EU, is seen as crucial to the shape of any new document, set to replace the original EU constitution rejected almost two years ago by French and Dutch voters.

Mr Blair's stance also puts him in the same camp as the Czech Republic, Poland and the leading candidate in the French elections, Nicolas Sarkozy - all pushing for pragmatic, institution-related reform.

The advantage of having a scaled down treaty in the eyes of the governments promoting it is that it would then be possible to avoid an unpredictable referendum in favour of the less politically hazardous parliamentary route.

"If we do not have the characteristics of a constitution, that is also relevant to the question of do you have a referendum or not," said Mr Balkenende.

"If we are going to a conclusion in June, it is important to say we will work in the direction of an amended treaty," he said of the summit in two months time when EU leaders are to discuss a timetable for agreeing a new treaty.

Schism

German chancellor and current head of the EU, Angela Merkel, will need superior political skills to bridge the gap between the small and big treaty camps ahead of the summit.

She is starting the process by meeting the eurosceptic Czech president Vaclav Klaus in Berlin today (17 April).

Informal meetings are also expected with the Netherlands and Poland - other governments seen as being against the constitution, according to Czech news agency CTK.

But on the other side of the fence, there are the 18 countries that have already largely ratified the rejected document - with some of them wanting the treaty to cover more areas rather than less.

"If needed, we could add something about climate change, immigration or energy…We are ready for that. But the clear message from Madrid is that we prefer to improve the text rather than cut from it," said Spain's Europe minister Alberto Navarro following a meeting of the "friends of the constitution" countries in January.

Analysis

First 100 days: Digital and Green Deal policies hit by crises

The first 100 days of Ursula von der Leyen's commission were supposed to be about the digital and environmental transitions. However, that agenda has been hit by first the coronavirus, and now the Greek border situation.

Feature

How corporate lobbyists steer EU law-making

Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

Investigation

G4S: the EU's preferred security contractor

The British multinational security company G4S lost its contract with the European Parliament in 2011 in a backlash from MEPs over alleged abuses in Israel. Today, they guard the parliament's main entrance and have become the EU's top security provider.

Exclusive

EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in

EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn owns 2,200 shares in Austria's largest electricity provider. Those shares have tripled in value since he first declared them in 2014. In January, the firm met his head of cabinet to discuss climate policy.

EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal

Small steps are being made to reveal who is lobbying who within the EU. But the approach is basically haphazard and piecemeal - meaning the public remains largely in the dark and unable to truly scrutinise the influencers.

'Top-down' future of Europe conference 'will fail' warning

The new president of the Committee of the Regions has warned the EU Commission that a top-down, centralised, Brussels-driven conference will fail to rebuild trust in Europe. Instead, he proposes a stronger say for local and regional authorities.

News in Brief

  1. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  2. EU Commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  3. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter
  4. Globally over 780,000 cases of coronavirus, 37,000 deaths
  5. EU states losing 3% of GDP a month, IMF says
  6. Fruit pickers need to cross borders too, EU says
  7. Former Slovak minister to become EU envoy on Kosovo-Serbia
  8. Hungary's Orban wins rule-by-decree vote in parliament

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us