Two-speed Europe would solve constitution deadlock, Prodi says
In the run up to the decisive EU summit on finding a way out of the constitutional impasse, the pro-European camp has started to sound the drum, with Italy's prime minister calling to "preserve as much as possible" of the draft EU treaty.
"In the last two years, almost only eurosceptic views have been listened to. It is time to listen to those who ratified the 2004 treaty," Italian prime minister Romano Prodi told MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (22 May).
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Mr Prodi – claiming to speak on behalf of 18 EU states which have largely ratified the original text – rejected "radical changes" to the foreseen institutional reforms. He listed the EU foreign minister, a lengthier presidency, the extension of qualified majority voting, the union's legal personality and the abolition of its three-pillar structure as elements which "must be preserved."
"If the compromise does not convince us, we will not sign it," he warned, clearly stating that a multi-speed Europe could bring about the long-sought breakthrough on the controversial issue.
"At this point, a vanguard of countries could…be the best way to proceed towards a more integrated union, on condition that door remains always open to those countries willing to join later," he said.
Referring to sceptical EU governments in Warsaw, London and The Hague - which want the new text to be scaled down considerably - the former European Commission president added that he hoped this "approach would overcome any temptation of veto."
Going on to talk about the 21-22 June summit, the Italian politician said that EU leaders should agree a "precise and selective" mandate for the intergovernmental conference (IGC) that is supposed to hammer out the treaty in the second half of this year.
If the negotiation terms for the IGC are too wide, he warned, there is unlikely to be an agreement within the strict timetable envisaged by the German EU presidency.
"With an open mandate, the conference can be hardly closed by late 2007, and the time necessary to pass the new agreement at national level would make it impossible to complete the process by early 2009," he said.
MEPs' red lines
Meanwhile, members of the European Parliament have also laid down their red lines, saying they "will reject any outcome of the negotiations, which – if compared to the constitutional treaty – would lead to a diminution of the protection of the rights of citizens…as well as less democracy, transparency and efficiency in the functioning of the union."
According to German conservative MEP Elmar Brok and Spanish socialist MEP Enrique Baron Crespo – both in charge of the constitutional dossier in the run up to the EU summit in June – the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, the legal personality for the bloc and a greater EU role in foreign policy are "non-negotiable" and must remain part of the compromise treaty.
"The referendum should not be used as blackmail," Mr Brok said, referring to the UK's opposition to the rights charter, with London sometimes accused of hanging a Damocles sword over the rest of the EU by saying that a treaty that has too many elements will have to be put to a referendum - unlikely to be passed a sceptical British population.
A similar warning was issued to Warsaw which opposes the new system of voting in the rejected constitution. "The word veto is not part of the treaty. We must negotiate in the best will, not use threats," said Mr Baron Crespo.
At the same time, MEPs hinted that Poland's hardline approach on the EU decision-making mechanism could come at a price, affecting Warsaw's call for an energy solidarity clause to be included in the constitution.
Mr Crespo also suggested Warsaw focuses on the so-called Ioannina clause, a compromise adopted in the mid-1990s which suggests that if a decision is only narrowly reached by member states and others remain strongly opposed then the issue will continue to be discussed to try and find a compromise solution.
"This could be a way forward for Poland," he said.