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Europe

Approval of EU Constitution May Take Time

Joschka Fischer has called on lawmakers to quickly ratify the European Union constitution, in order to set an example for other EU countries. But some lawmakers lamented the lack of a popular referendum.

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Schröder, left, aided the Spanish vote but doesn't want one at home

The German parliament has begun the legislative process leading towards ratification of the EU constitution -- amid unusual harmony among politicians of all stripes.

For the most part, German lawmakers have praised the constitution, calling it a milestone on the way to a stronger and more integrated European Union.

Erwin Teufel

Baden-Württemberg Premier Erwin Teufel

Erwin Teufel (photo), the Christian Democratic party (CDU)state premier of Baden-Württemberg and a member of the EU convention that worked out the document last year, recalled the old divisions and wars in Europe which preceded the current climate of peace and unity on the continent.

EU is bigger -- and more effective

The constitution will give Europe "a new shape and a future," Teufel said. "Europe won’t grow stronger when it deals with thousands of issues. Europe will only become stronger when it deals with the right issues. And the constitution guarantees that it will do so."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, one of the staunchest advocates of the constitution, argued that an enlarged European Union is an effective political union, not a bureaucratic behemoth.

"The European Union with 15 members hasn’t achieved in three summits what the enlarged EU of 25 members managed in only six months and two summits," Fischer said. "This goes to show that accusations a larger Europe is unmanageable are wrong. The constitutional process has proved the European Union is working."

Fischer also said he was convinced that the new constitution would overcome the widespread lack of interest about Europe among its populations, and enhance their willingness to participate.

Dr. Werner Hoyer

Dr. Werner Hoyer

But Werner Hoyer (photo), a parliamentarian from the liberal Free Democratic party, retorted that one reason Germans are not interested in Europe is that they are not given a say in adopting the constitution.

"Germans are skeptical, uninterested and misinformed about the constitution because the political establishment doesn’t see the need to campaign for the document in a referendum," he said. "If we would be forced to wage a public information campaign, all of us would have to work really hard. Parliament’s refusal to hold a referendum on the constitution is hugely lamentable and will not serve our common cause."

Numerous EU state have decided to put the constitution to a popular vote. Spanish voters approved the document on Sunday, in the first in a series of referendums.

Points of controversy

In spite of the general, cross-party political consensus in Germany on the constitution, there is also controversy on the rights of control by national parliaments to be included in the annex to the draft.

Germany’s conservative opposition wants parliament to be allowed to reprimand Brussels and be given the right to sue before the European Court, for example, in cases of violation of the subsidiarity principle. The subsidiary principle obliges the European Commission to restrict itself to legislation whose objectives cannot be better achieved by the member states themselves.

They also want a strong national say on the possible entry of Turkey into the EU, a move which the CDU flatly rejects at the moment. So in the end, the ratification process in Germany may take a while. And Joschka Fischer's much hoped-for signal to Europe -- a speedy ratification -- is unlikely to materialize.

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