One of the main goals of the German EU presidency is to resurrect the European Union constitution. But some say that is not going to happen.
Many say the EU treaty is out to pasture
Resurrecting the half-buried European constitution is "a near-impossible task," a Spanish diplomat acknowledged ahead of a Friday meeting at which 18 European Union countries attempted to breathe new life into the controversial document.
Despite official optimism, the 18 were well aware of the difficulties faced by the German EU presidency, which has set rescuing the constitution among its top priorities.
The 18 "friends of the European constitution," all of which have ratified it, were called together by Spain and Luxembourg to press the other nine countries into relaunching the constitutional process.
The charter has been on ice since French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005 referendums.
Huge challenges ahead
Countries present in Madrid stressed the importance of a politically-committed "real" constitution rather than a scaled-down "mini-treaty."
The French and the Dutch remain skeptical
"We cannot resign ourselves to Europe being no more than a huge market," Spanish Secretary of State Alberto Navarro and Luxembourg delegate Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolas Schmit wrote in a letter published by the European press.
Europe had huge challenges to face, ranging from climate change and globalization to immigration, organized crime and social inequality, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stressed.
Proponents of a strong charter also say a shift towards more qualified majority voting would help the EU absorb new members, and that the creation of an elected European Council president and a EU foreign minister would make it easier to intervene in international
Reform is unnecessary
The German EU presidency wants to salvage the "substance" of the treaty as it stands now, but it will have to deal with people like Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who has dismissed the constitution as a 'pile of crap.'
Many are worried the issue will split the EU
Critics, which also include Poland and Britain, feel the reform is unnecessary, cumbersome and expensive. British sources have argued that the EU works well within its current framework.
Among the other countries, euro-enthusiasts such as Portugal and Ireland are virtually certain to ratify the constitution, but France and the Netherlands cannot expect their citizens to change their minds if asked to vote on the same document a second time.
Dutch and French voters rejected the charter over several reasons including the EU's anonymous bureaucracy and rapid enlargement.
Increasing talk of a mini-treaty
It is clear the constitution will have to be modified, but the question of how much remains.
There is increasing talk about a "mini-treaty," which would reduce the institutional reforms -- as proposed by French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy -- or focus on practicalities rather than a political project, an option favored by many in Britain.
A radical slimming down of the text, however, would lead to a new impasse, as it would require new ratifications by the countries which already approved the current document.
The danger is, that the EU could become polarized into two camps, and critics felt that it had already started happening in Madrid.
None of the countries critical of the constitution were invited, causing considerable unease in the no-camp and reportedly also in Germany.