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Constitution Woes

DW staff (jam)February 27, 2007

German plans to put forward new proposals on the stalled EU constitutional process drew support from Denmark but hesitancy from the Czech Republic Tuesday. Berlin will likely have to lower the bar.

It is difficult for Germany to get everyone on the same page regarding the consitutionImage: dpa

Although Chancellor Angela Merkel had hoped to use an upcoming summit in Berlin to be a springboard toward a new discussion on an EU constitution, differences among members mean that will likely not happen. German aspirations are being rolled back as member states remain on different pages regarding an EU charter.

"Quality is more important than speed," Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra said, following talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin.

EU Verfassung Flagge Deutschland
Germany had hoped to revive the constitution processImage: AP

However, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said after a separate meeting with Steinmeier that Denmark would back an initiative to be put forward by Germany before it passes the EU presidency to Portugal in July.

"If all 27 members vote for it, we will be on board," Moller said, warning that the EU faced a difficult period if no solution to the impasse was found.

Uniting or dividing?

Vondra said a solution to the problem, which arose after the French and the Dutch rejected the proposed new constitution, had to be found. But the solution had to bind Europe together and not divide it, he added, pledging a constructive approach from the Czech Republic.

Steinmeier expressed confidence a new initiative backed by all EU members would be put forward by the end of June.

"We need this if Europe is to remain effective in the future," he said, pointing to the need for institutional reform for the enlarged EU to keep functioning.

Although Germany had hoped to use its six-month EU presidency to get the treaty discussions back firmly on track, it appears that that goal will not be reached.

Declaration dissention

In a sign of the extent of the differences among EU countries, representatives cannot agree on the language to be used in a declaration being drafted for March summit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU.

Diplomats are split on language describing the bloc's achievements, values and challenges in a document, which one envoy described to Reuters are likely to be "bland at best."

EU Verfassung Volksabstimmung in Frankreich Plakat
The French and Dutch "No's" stalled the constitution -- restarting it is difficult

Merkel's goal is to get EU leaders on board by June to work towards the ratification of a new version of the EU constitution by 2009's European Parliament elections.

"She wanted a clause at the end of the Berlin Declaration saying 'this is why we need to sign up to a new constitution to set up the June summit,'" one diplomat told Reuters. "This is not going to happen."

Instead, the document will likely try to set the mood for reviving talks rather than make firm commitments, since Merkel does not want to start in internal EU fight. Opinions within the bloc differ widely on issues such as Turkey's potential membership, further expansion and the extent of EU's social welfare system.

The needs of an unwieldy bloc

Proponents of the constitution say it is needed to ease decision-making in the 27-member bloc. It would give bigger nations more power through a reform of the voting system and appoint a foreign minister and an EU president who would serve for longer than the current six months.

Eighteen of the 27 EU members have ratified the new constitution. The French and Dutch rejected it by significant majorities in referenda held in mid-2005, causing a crisis in the EU which can still be felt.

The British government pledged to hold a referendum, but postponed it indefinitely after the rejection by France and the Netherlands. Poland, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Ireland have yet to ratify it.