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Europe

EU Nations Stake out Turf ahead of Constitutional Conference

Poland attacked a draft version of the European Union constitution on Monday, only days ahead of a key conference supposed to hammer out the remaining differences on the document.

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Not all of the EU members are avid supporters of the draft constitution.

On Saturday, an EU intergovernmental conference (IGC) is set to begin in Rome. Although many EU members have urged approving the constitutional draft largely as it is, several countries appear to be preparing to fight for changes they deem essential.

The coming battle will for the most part pit the EU’s largest members against the smaller nations, which fear loosing influence in Brussels. But mid-sized countries like Poland and Spain are also talking particularly tough ahead of the IGC.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Poland – which joins the EU next May – circulated a position paper spelling out Warsaw’s numerous objections to the draft text. One of Poland’s key demands is the retention of the “qualified majority” voting system that was negotiated in Nice in 2000. The awkward system gives Poland – and similarly sized Spain – a weight far greater than relative to its population of nearly 40 million.

“We are defending the existing and binding international agreement which is the Nice Treaty,” Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told Reuters last week. “We should be convinced by those who support the convention proposals of the new system that they are better for all of us, not only for some of us.”

Italy, current holder of the EU presidency, hopes to have the IGC negotiations wrapped up by December. But not boding particularly well for the upcoming talks, Spain’s motto for negotiating is apparently “Nice or Death.”

Streamlining Brussels

A constitution convention, led by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, last spring cobbled together the contentious draft, which aims to streamline the EU’s institutions to make it capable of functioning when the bloc expands from 15 to 25 members next year.

At the heart of the controversy are proposals to create a permanent president or chairman of the European Council, which is where EU national leaders meet to set policy. Currently the EU presidency is rotated every six months with each member country government representing the bloc. The larger countries complain this reduces the effectiveness and dilutes the focus of the presidency.

The draft text also suggests limiting the size of the European Commission, the body which proposes laws and enforces common EU policies, to 15 executive members. Presently each country is guaranteed one commissioner and larger nations have two. The smaller nations want to see each member guaranteed a commissioner to protect their national interests in Brussels.

Außenminister Benita Ferrero-Waldner Österreich

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

“Every state has the right to have important questions addressed at the intergovernmental conference,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, according to the Associated Press.

Nice Treaty considered unwieldy

The Treaty of Nice, which currently regulates how the European Union is governed, is largely considered untenable with ten extra members. But just one country could scuttle the new constitution if they fail ratify it.

Accordingly, politicians from Europe’s biggest four nations – Germany, France, Britain and Italy – have said trying to drastically revamp the draft constitution could have the disastrous effect of derailing the whole project.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Brussels on Monday took a sober look at the upcoming challenges, but still tried to remained positive: “There are quite a few obstacles, however, I’m optimistic that at the end of the last hour the European spirit will find everyone.”

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