EU Ponders More Questions Than Answers Amid Celebrations | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.03.2007
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EU Ponders More Questions Than Answers Amid Celebrations

The European Union celebrated its 50th birthday on Sunday, but critics said a much publicized statement marking the occasion papers over the cracks and the divisive differences over how to meet new challenges.

The Berlin Declaration set out plans for the EU's future but how much is it really worth?

The Berlin Declaration set out plans for the EU's future but how much is it really worth?

The blueprint for the future was contained in a Berlin Declaration signed by Chancellor Angela Merkel during an informal gathering with the other 26 EU leaders in the German capital.

While the two-page document proudly noted the progress made since the EU was founded, it avoided mentioning controversial issues like the bloc's Christian roots, enlargement and the EU constitution.

Instead there were general references to fighting "terrorism, organized crime and illegal immigration together," as well as intentions to "jointly lead the way in energy policy and climate protection."

But it fell a long way short of "the creative madness" which Italian Premier Romano Prodi said was needed by the EU to show that the world can be changed.

Party snubs and enlargement fatigue

Symbolbild EU Türkei

Turkey was unhappy at not being invited to the party

Accession candidates like Turkey had complained in advance about prospective newcomers not being invited to the birthday party, saying "it would have been meaningful, in terms of demonstrating once again the unity of the European family."

This unity has given way to "enlargement fatigue" in countries like Germany where polls show there is little appetite to take on more members after the 12 mostly eastern European nations that have joined since 2004.

But other states like Ireland and Britain are in favor of newcomers joining the bloc, which has seen its population balloon to nearly 500 million since the founding Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957.

The German chancellor said the EU has become so big that it needs to take on a new role to become more effective. A constitution is the best way to achieve this, she believes.

Resuscitating the treaty, which has been on ice since its rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005, was so divisive that it was omitted from the Berlin Declaration altogether.

Merkel dedicated to EU constitution

EU Verfassung Symbolbild

Merkel is leading the championing of the constitution

Merkel hopes to present a road map on how to proceed with the treaty before Germany's six-month presidency of the union expires at the end of June.

"We are united in our aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European parliament elections in 2009," was the compromise formula that appeared in the Berlin Declaration.

While Merkel would like to keep the "substance" of the moribund 485-page constitution, objections have come from Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic, among others.

Britain opposes surrendering control of its foreign policy to an EU foreign minister, while the Czech Republic believes the target date of 2009, when it will hold the EU presidency, is too early.

Poland fears it is unfairly treated in the proposed voting system in the treaty, which gives votes according to population, thus making Germany the major beneficiary in decision-making issues because it is Europe's biggest nation.

Critics say declaration ignores real problems

Bildgalerie 50 Jahre Römische Verträge Bild 18 2004 Italien EU Verfassung Plakat

There is still a lot of work to be done

"The real problem issues are just being postponed," said Daniela Schwarzer, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

If Merkel insists on having the treaty ready by 2009 the differences will have to be sorted out by the end of this year, according to German television analyst Udo van Kampen.

This is because the document will need to be ratified by all 27 national parliaments, a cumbersome process that could take as long as 18 months.

Failure to do this could revive the discussion of a two-speed Europe, with one group pressing ahead with political and economic union ahead of the rest.

However, the German presidency remains optimistic and insists "the goal remains a constitution," effectively dismissing suggestions that some kind of watered-down document that addresses only the administrative difficulties would suffice.

The Berlin Declaration did not please Pope Benedict XVI, who said that Europe was facing an identity crisis because of policies which had also resulted in a low birthrate.

The pontiff was especially critical of the fact that there was no reference to Europe being a Christian community, something which was left out of the Berlin Declaration despite objections from Poland.

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