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Reviving the EU Constitution...Or Not

DW staff (dc)
January 31, 2006

As the current holder of the EU presidency, Austria has attempted to restart debate about how the stalled EU constitution project should move forward. Where do various member states stand on the document's future?

Which way forward for the embattled constitution?

The European constitution was put on ice after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the draft document last year. But at the invitation of the Austrian government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, a group of EU politicians, artists and intellectuals recently met in Salzburg to discuss the way forward for the stalled project. Throughout the bloc, there are discordant views on what should be done about the constitution.

So far, 12 countries -- Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain -- have ratified the treaty. Germany has voted in favour of the constitution, but the federal president has not yet signed the ratification. The constitution cannot come into effect unless it is ratified by all 25 member states.

Below, a sample of opinion from countries that have spoken out on the EU constitution's future.


As the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, Austria leads the constitutional revival camp. Austrian leader Wolfgang Schüssel said recently that "the constitution is not dead, it is in the middle of a ratification process."


There are doubts about how much support the "yea" camp can expect from Finland. Finnish President Tarja Halonen had expressed surprise at Austria's initiative to revive discussion, saying "to us, the recess declared after the referendums in France and Holland is still valid." However, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has expressed support for the project and hopes that countries that already ratified the constitution will be flexible when it comes to changing the text. "We have to be realistic and show flexibility in this question," Vanhanen said at the meeting in Salzburg.


Not giving up on the aims of the constitution, French President Jacques Chirac has proposed a "pick and choose" approach to the constitutional text, which would see only single elements of the constitution ratified. Chirac has said he could envision improving the functioning of the EU institutions, starting from the framework of the existing treaties.


Angela Merkel in Frankreich Jacques Chirac
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are at odds over the treatyImage: AP

Germany and France, which normally strive to cooperate on EU issues, are at odds when it comes to the constitution. Germany would like to save the constitution in its entirety, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that constitutional "cherry-picking" does not work. Chirac's approach would "seriously damage the overall balance," Merkel said. She has proposed attaching a declaration on the "social dimension of Europe" in a bid to save the charter as a whole.


The Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot has said that the constitution is "dead" for the Netherlands, adding that it is out of the question that his country would ever ratify it. Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the constitution last June, following a French "No" vote three days earlier. However Dutch supporters of the constitution point out that, technically, their country's refusal to ratify the treaty only applies to the current cabinet period, which ends with parliamentary elections due in May 2007.


Polish President Lech Kaczynski has said that the EU should draft a brand new constitution, as the one on the table pushes for more integration than EU citizens are willing to accept. Shortly before the meeting in Austria, he told a Polish news agency that any new document should "reflect the EU's real needs. And the European reality is a reality of states, mostly national states."


Portugal will take up the challenge of reviving the constitution during its presidency in the second half of 2007, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates has said. "The project of the constitutional treaty was signed by the 25 member states and it would not be right (to forget it)," Socrates told his national parliament.


Supports camp of member states in favour of reviving the constitution. "In Slovenia, we are convinced that the EU constitution is very much alive," Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel was quoted as saying in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard.


Spain would like to save the constitution in its entirety. Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos said his government would find it impossible to explain changes in the text of the document to the Spanish people, as they already approved it by a large majority in the referendum last year.