Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Berlin criticised for secrecy over EU birthday text

With EU member states expecting to get the final draft of the entire Berlin declaration to mark the bloc's 50th birthday on Wednesday (21 March), some delegations have criticised the secrecy of its drafting and urged the German presidency to handle the forthcoming talks on the EU constitution differently.

Berlin on Monday sent member states four passages referred to as the "Main elements" of the birthday statement accounting for about one fifth of the whole text.

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They include a reference to the 2009 European elections as the point by which the EU should have resolved the institutional impasse sparked by the rejection of the constitution by French and Dutch citizens in 2005.

According to a fresh draft seen by EUobserver, this passage suggests "we must constantly renew Europe's political form. For that reason today, fifty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we are united in the common goal of renewing, in time for the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, the common foundation on which the European Union is built."

It also includes, "We, the peoples of Europe, are aware that Europe is our good fortune!"

Another paragraph mentions the current achievements of integrated Europe, particularly the single market and the euro, and there is also a detailed paragraph on European solidarity and the bloc's social model.

"Only together can we preserve our European social model in the future. That model combines economic success and social responsibility to the benefit of all citizens of the European Union. The single market and the euro make us strong enough to mould increasing economic interlinkage and competition according to our values."

Meanwhile, some delegations expressed surprise at the phrase in the declaration reading "We, the peoples of Europe," in the draft distributed on Monday. They argue that the declaration was drawn up in a close and secretive circle around German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jan Zahradil, the Czech representative for talks on the Berlin declaration and the EU constitution, said that one of the key points in Prague's reply to the latest text was that it is "regretable" how little debate there was about its content.

"There was just one round of bilateral talks and the rest of the communication came by e-mails. The final part is only expected on late Wednesday when it won't be possible to make changes," he told EUobserver.

"This should not be repeated when we debate the timetable on the EU constitution which the German presidency wants to come up with in the second part of its term," he added.

Concerning the speculation that the declaration may only be signed by the heads of the EU's three main institutions, the Czech Republic notified Berlin that if this is the case, Prague would "feel free" to interpret the statement in its own way, meaning it would see the 2009 deadline as not linked to the ratification of the revised constitution.

The secrecy behind the Berlin declaration has also been criticised by the European Parliament although its president Hans Gert Poettering will also be one of the three personalities putting their signature on the document.

When the EU plenary debated the birthday statement last week, several MEPs criticised the lack of debate on it with liberal group leader Graham Watson saying "to debate the declaration without having seen a draft is bizarre."

Turkey offended

Meanwhile, another critical voice towards Berlin came from Ankara on Tuesday. The Turkish foreign ministry said that the candidate countries for EU membership had hoped to be at least invited to celebrate the union's 50th birthday.

"Had Germany invited candidate countries to the event, it would have served as a meaningful development that would have showcased the unity of the European family," a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to news agency AP.

But the German presidency has been trying to avoid any negative sentiments around the issue of enlargement in the Berlin declaration.

While some countries - such as the UK or new member states - favour further expansion of the EU, France maintained in the course of debates on the birthday text that the Berlin Declaration should not signal Europe's willingness to expand endlessly.

Turkey attended the signing of the EU constitution in Rome on 29 October 2004.

In the run up to the May 2005 referendum on the treaty in France, images of the Turkish prime minister signing the constitution were frequently presented by anti-constitution campaigners in the country as a link between the EU charter and the Muslim country's accession.

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