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Fischer Says Hands Off EU Constitution

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warns other European countries not to re-negotiate the EU draft constitution. Should they attempt to do so, Germany would follow suit, bringing their own grievances to the table.


European nations shouldn't try to change the draft constitution, says German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Should European nations re-open a can of worms? That was the metaphorical question on the table in Berlin Wednesday night during a special meeting of the European Committee of the Lower House of Parliament, Bundestag.

Members of the committee debated whether or not aspects of the carefully negotiated draft constitution - which contains many delicate compromises - should be re-negotiated during the intergovernmental conference set to start in October.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose government has advocated the full acceptance of the constitution by all European nations as is, warned that should the package be taken apart, "it will be very difficult to bring it back together". What's more, said Fischer, "those who open it, must have the strength to tie it back together".

Taking apart a delicate compromise

Indeed, that would be a difficult task, as the current draft constitution resulted from years of negotiation in the Convention for the Future of Europe, headed by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Should the compromises reached at the Convention fall apart, it could result in serious delays for the process of European reform, which Fischer and other European countries are hoping to avoid.

On the surface, at least, Fischer has the backing of many German politicians from both ends of the ideological spectrum. The German representatives to the Convention, Jürgen Meyer from the ruling Social Democrats and Peter Altmaier, a member of the opposition CDU, concurred.

"Everyone who tries to open the package must show that he has a better compromise in mind, and that he can bring the issue to a close," said Meyer.

Lingering concerns from smaller nations

Joschka Fischer im Bundestag

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

Fischer and others in the committee were likely responding to a debate that has emerged in recent days, following comments made by the foreign ministers of a few smaller EU countries at a televised public debate on Monday.

It's no secret that smaller EU countries have been on the offensive, concerned that several changes codified in the new agreement could be to their disadvantage. They are specifically concerned about the introduction of qualified majority voting. As of 2009, countries representing 60 percent of Europe's population will represent the majority, which means that smaller countries will have a hard time opposing legislation backed by the "big three", Germany, France and Italy. Until now, smaller countries have benefited from voting weights, which gave them more influence in European affairs.

Smaller nations, including Austria and Finland, had hoped to redress this issue during the intergovernmental conference in October. They, therefore, have reacted strongly to recent Italian attempts to start the conference early and wrap things up by the end of the year. From their point of view, that simply does not leave enough time.

At the debate on Monday, Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja said that it was not right to start the negotiations so early: "We must have ample time to refer to all these issues." Austrian foreign minister Benita-Waldner concurred, stating that many sensitive questions had been left open, including the position of smaller countries.

The news that smaller nations were hoping to tackle issues as delicate as voting rules was a sign of the difficult road to approval for the newly drafted constitution.

Rehashing issues: Germany's latent concerns

But smaller nations are not the only ones with a laundry list of concerns. Germany has its own, which they have - according to Fischer - thus far put on the back-burner in the interest of compromise. But should other countries take the lead and re-open the negotiation process, Germany will follow suit. "Should the draft be opened up again, we will not hold back," he warned.

Germany has expressed concern about turning over key competencies to the EU. Among them: allowing the European Parliament instead of member states to have final say over the budget. As the biggest net contributor to the EU budget, this could cost the German government more than a €1 billion a year.

Members of the opposition CDU have also criticized the immigration rules as inadequate and members of both parties are hoping to press for qualified majority voting in foreign affairs issues relating to the Common Foreign and Security policy.

Altmaier challenged Fischer to reach an agreement with the committee on which issues should be taken up again should the negotiations go into a second round.

A referendum?

At the same meeting, Fischer also expressed his opinion over whether or not the EU Constitution should be submitted for a referendum. Contrary to most members of the Minister's Green party, Fischer was sceptical of such an action. "Unlike the majority of my party, I belong to the sceptics on this issue," he said.

Some fear that voters could use the referendum as a vent for their general discontent with the current German government, which could unnecessarily endanger the process. However, others, like Anna Lührmann, from the Minister's own Green party, feel a referendum will help the Constitution gain maximum legitimacy. These issues, will be on the agenda at the intergovernmental conference scheduled to start in October.

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