Thursday

9th Apr 2020

Prodi causes confusion with secret draft constitution

Thursday saw some confusion among journalists, commission officials and interested onlookers in Brussels. Were there one or two Commission documents on the future of Europe? The answer was one "official document" and one "penelope." The latter of which no-one wanted to take any responsibility for.

Forced to show his hand through media leaks which got the two papers tangled up with one another, Commission President Romano Prodi finally admitted on Thursday that he and some of his commissioners (Antonio Vitorino and Michel Barnier) were conducting a "feasibility study" to give a "first idea of how a treaty could be organised on the basis of the preliminary draft constitution treaty presented to the Convention by the presidium." Mr Prodi submitted the 'unofficial' document to the presidium on Wednesday along with the 'official' document endorsed by 20 commissioners. This led presidium member Guiliano Amato to remark: "We did not quite understand the relation between the two."

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  • ROMANO PRODI - the Commission president has angered fellow commissioners by writing up a draft constitution in secret. (Photo: European Commission)

The secret document, known as Penelope, has infuriated other commissioners who were not part of the super-trio (Prodi-Barnier-Vitorino) working on the future of Europe debate and was strongly opposed within the college say insiders.

Ratify or else...

In the end, the 177-page document was reduced to a "working document" and is introduced with the words "this feasibility study does not necessarily represent the views of the European Commission." Whether it represents the views of many commissioners or otherwise it contains some big proposals - not least on how to ratify a future treaty.

Mr Prodi's draft constitution suggests that member states make "a declaration confirming the resolve of its people to continue to belong to the Union". Failure to do this means the state "leaves the Union." If 5/6 of member states approve the new treaty, then it will enter into force anyway. Such a ratification clause could cause problems for countries such as Ireland, where referenda on new EU treaties have become the norm. This country's delay in ratifying the Nice Treaty gave rise to the current debate on ratification.

Broad mutual assistance for defence and \"serious difficulties\"

Another very controversial point is a suggested mutual defence clause - much like article five in the NATO treaty - whereby there would be an "obligation of mutual assistance in the event of an attack." The paper does not stop there, it suggests that such an assitance clause should be extended so that "if one of the member states experiences serious difficulties by reason of exceptional events, the other member states shall provide it with the requisite assistance." The paper proposes defence policy be an "integral part of the Union's external relation policy."

Another part of the draft set to annoy member states is the policies that the Union would count among its own. A "principle policy" would include justice and home affairs where the Union would ensure "a high degree of security, the prevention and combatting of crime and judicial cooperation." "Flanking policies" would include social policy and employment and health.

Commission pushes to stay in future of Europe debate

The Commission is doing its utmost not to be sidelined in the future of Europe debate. In a highly unusual move the secretary general of the Commission, David O' Sullivan, on Friday sent a letter asking the Convention to take more note of its "feasibility study" on a future constitution of Europe.

Giscard will not be Penelope's suitor

Poor Penelope! In Greek mythology she is the wife of Ulysses. While he goes off to fight in the Trojan war, she waits for him for 20 years not knowing whether he is alive or dead. Penelope is also the name of Romano Prodi’s hugely ambitious secret constitution. Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had as much fun as possible on Friday being perfectly derisory about it.

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