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Europe

Opinion: Trouble Lurks at EU Convention

The European Convention entered its final bargaining round this week on the draft of an EU constitution. But in these last hours, the danger exists that grand ideas will be balkanized by narrow-minded fights.

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Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, is giving the drafters of the EU's first constitution a daily headache.

The European Union has stayed true to itself. Last week, you could still get the impression that convention president Valery Giscard d'Estaing achieved something magnificent by largely uniting the 105 European delegates on his constitutional committee. After more than a year of deliberations, meetings, debates and speeches came the first signs of an initial agreement over the draft of a European constitution which is currently being considered.

But now, just a few meters from the decisive final leg, the adoption of the paper ahead of next week’s European Union summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, is turning out to be like so many other events in EU history. Underhanded dealing, tactical maneuvering and hectic negotiations rule the day in the European Parliament building in Brussels where the constitution is being drafted.

The Brok block

Over the past weekend, resistance and doubts began to accumulate and many convention participants felt obliged to publicly vent what were often their personal opinions at special press conferences. Leading the pack was Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament and career Eurocrat. The Christian Democrat, who is always good for a drastic or critical quote, informed the press almost daily of his thoughts on the convention.

Of course, whatever he has to say is always about power in the EU and the so-called institutional questions. In Brok's opinion -- one he shares with other European parliamentarians -- the parliament will still have too little influence under the current draft, and individual member states will have too much power. He'd like to see the parliament have the power to nominate candidates for central EU posts. For example, Brok believes candidates for the new EU foreign minister job should be nominated by parliament. At the same time, the individual European governments are seeking to hold on to their power -- a desire that Giscard d'Estaing seems to support.

The European Commission is also seeking to have itself mirrored in the text of the constitution, and it, too, is insisting on additional influence. For example, the Commission would like to see the unanimity requirement in decisions regarding taxes and foreign policy to be severely limited if not removed altogether. An example of the Commission's concern is this: What if, as a last consequence, Malta were to determine whether a German soldier should be deployed in Liberia or some other trouble spot? That would be a nightmare scenario -- and not only for German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

"Commission of castrati"

Then there's the battle front between the small and large EU states playing out at the convention. Until recently, it appeared clear that the number of commissioners on the European Commission would be limited to 15 after 2009. In other words: not every one of the 25 EU member states would be able to have its own commissioner in Brussels. Men and women from the member states without a vote would stand at the side of the real commissioners -- as second-class commissioners, or "Junior Commissioners" as some are now calling the voteless commissioners. Nobody knows exactly what these commissioners would do, other than to serve as tokens to cushion the alleged handicap or lacking clout of a member country. For that reason, observers in Brussels have taken to calling them "castrated commissioners" -- and publicly, too.

And that's the way it could go for the entire grand draft (of the constitution) if the convention assembly isn't careful. What was convened at the EU summit at Laeken Palace as a grand forum for democracy is now threatening to fizzle out in petty and narrow-minded arguments.

Still, the heads of state and government of the 15 current member states have the final say. In Thessaloniki next week, they can either give the paper laying before them a thumb's up or a thumb's down. And the EU chiefs could also just leave the irrelevant commentary (of some delegates) be, because their own representatives will be meeting once again in Greece to give the final polish to the future European constitution.

The author, Gerda Meuer, is Deutsche Welle's Brussels correspondent.

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