Hopes Fade as Constitution Talks Hit More Obstacles | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.11.2003
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Hopes Fade as Constitution Talks Hit More Obstacles

Just as it looked like one major problem had been solved at the EU constitution talks in Naples on Friday, even more surfaced on Saturday to leave discussions deadlocked once again.


EU foreign ministers choose the next one to raise an objection.

Despite moves by the European Union’s Italian presidency to unlock the door to the EU’s first constitution by proposing a delay in the voting rights discussion that has dogged the talks, Saturday’s discussions in Naples failed to offer any further hope of a breakthrough.

Positive noises were being made by Italian and British representatives at the foreign ministers meeting on Friday after one of the most stubborn points on the agenda looked set to be resolved.

However, the optimistic Italians, who hoped to all but seal a deal in Naples, failed to appreciate the rigidity of many member states on a host of other issues.

One solution does not a constitution make

EU Verfassung EU-Gipfel in Thessaloniki

The draft copy of the European Constitution is proving embarrasingly problematic.

With each carrying their own bugbear into the preliminary discussions ahead of what was hoped to be an unveiling of the draft constitution at the next major EU summit in December, one offered solution to one outstanding problem was never going to mean a final conclusion.

The next obstacle seems to be the planned removal of the right of national veto in EU decisions on foreign policy along with issues surrounding other "red lines" within the draft such as taxation, social security, the on-going negotiations on defense and the euro-budget.

Unresolved battles go to next round

Many of the EU governments presented their own national "no-go" areas and the talks faltered once more with the individual members offering little room for compromise. Much to the dismay of those present, and especially the Italians, the big battles will have to be faced when EU leaders meet in Brussels next weekend.

EU Gipfel in Athen

The constitution is designed to streamline the EU and avoid bureaucratic and political gridlock when it expands next May from 15 to 25 countries. But the proposals have been greeted by eurosceptics as a federalists' charter - while federalists say they will still leave too much power for running the EU in national government hands.

Commission power a sticking point

One argument being supported by a number of nations is that EU governments should remain in the driving seat and not cede too much control to the European Commission.

The Commission, meanwhile, is pushing for more authority, and for virtually all EU decisions to be taken by a majority vote of the member states, to avoid one or other country blocking progress because of a narrow national interest.

Hope shines briefly

The EU's Italian presidency proposed on Friday what was described as an “imaginative” solution to the voting rights argument, one of the most stubborn sticking points in the European draft constitution talks taking place in Naples this weekend. In a move that has been enthusiastically supported by Britain, Italy recommends that any change to national voting rights within the EU should be delayed until 2009.

It was seen as potential breakthrough in the talks on the bloc's first constitution won’t satisfy everyone and could well be seen as a damaging defeat to Germany, which stands to gain most from the reforms included in the proposed constitution because it has the largest population, if goes ahead. In the European Union, the number of votes in EU decision-making a member state has is in direct correlation to the size of its population, thereby giving Germany a huge slice of power.

Favorable to bigger countries

Valery Giscard d'Estaing

European Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing addresses the European Convention at the end of the last Euro Convention session held at the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday June 13, 2003. (AP Photo/Thierry Charlier)

The draft constitution, the document put together by European Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing (picture) which has caused such a headache for the Italian presidency, would scrap voting weights agreed at Nice in 2000 which gave Spain and Poland 27 votes each in the EU Council of Ministers, just two less than Britain, France, Germany and Italy, which have far larger populations.

In its place, the constitution would allow a vote to be passed if a majority of countries representing 60 percent of the total EU population agree.

This would give more weight to countries with bigger populations and significantly dilute the influence that Spain and Poland, who both received voting power greater than the size of their populations, bring to bear in the EU.

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