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Europe

Germans Bank on "Treaty" to Replace Doomed EU Constitution

By calling it a "treaty," the current German EU presidency has begun reviving the stalled approval process for a new constitution for the union. But not everyone is happy about the strategy.

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Will Europeans find it easier to swallow a treaty or a constitution?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials are currently in talks with representatives from the bloc's other 26 members to try and hammer out an agreement before the German presidency ends at the end of June.

By leaving the word "constitution" out of the discussion, Merkel hopes to get her colleagues to agree on a document that lacks the grave connotations and still manages to give the EU an improved voting system based largely on population size, a president and a foreign minister -- even though they might not be called that.

Merkel in Prag

Merkel has been discussing the idea with euroskeptics such as Klaus


"I consider it likely that symbolic elements like the words 'constitution' or 'constitutional' or the title 'foreign minister' will not be in the new treaty," Czech negotiator Jan Zahradil told Reuters news service after Merkel met Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a euroskeptic, last week.

"Maybe the position will be there without the title of minister," he added.

Points of dispute

According to Zahradil, German officials have come up with 12 so-called "points of dispute" that will be the focus of any further discussions.

Jein

Could this Dutch cow be convinced of the benefits of a treaty?


According to diplomats cited by Reuters, these points include the future of a charter of fundamental rights, which Britain and the Netherlands do not support. Also up for debate are plans to extend majority decision-making to justice and security issues. German officials also want to include stronger references to energy security and climate change and give greater importance to social issues -- a French request.

Merkel's efforts are backed by people such as outgoing British Premier Tony Blair, who has been talking about a "simplified treaty" that would allow EU members to reach a swift agreement.

No mini-treaty

But supporters of an EU consitution, such as Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt, have said that they are unwilling to back a watered-down document.

Guy Verhofstadt Ministerpräsident Belgien

Guy Verhofstadt wants the real thing


"We can't just follow the proposal of some states and wipe the slate clean of the constitutional treaty," Verhofstadt said in a speech at the Egmont Institute, a foreign policy think-tank, according to Reuters.

"Let there be no mistake: A mini-treaty is unacceptable," he added.

It's unlikely that Merkel will be able to go beyond initial talks during her time as EU president, however: Diplomats expect an intergovernmental conference to take place under the Portuguese EU presidency in October, Reuters reported. A decision is not likely to come before December.

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