March 06, 2007
Merkel prepares to revive constitution at EU birthday bash
David Charter in Brussels
From Timesonline UK
Angela Merkel is attempting to exploit her role as hostess for Europe’s 50th birthday party to give momentum to her project to revive the EU constitution.
As she prepares for the Berlin commemoration of the founding of the Common Market in 1957, the Chancellor of Germany, said that the main tasks facing Europe were the “adjustments we have so far omitted to make” to prepare the EU for the next 50 years.
That was a clear reference to the EU constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005 but which Mrs Merkel has made her priority to resuscitate.
Despite objections from Britain, France and the Netherlands, she will try to convince European leaders this week to include strong wording on the need for “institutional reform” in the Berlin declaration — an anniversary statement that is intended to celebrate Europe’s achievements.
A taste of Britain at banquet
A rich fruity delicacy made to a secret Lancastrian recipe will be Britain’s contribution to the European Union’s anniversary celebrations
British diplomats are desperate to keep any reference to the failed constitution out of the declaration, which is due to be published on March 25 after a discussion by EU heads of government at their summit on Thursday. Mrs Merkel wants to set out a timetable by June for publishing a new constitutional treaty.
Diplomats from all 27 EU countries have been consulted on the wording of the Berlin declaration and have been told that it will be split into three parts: achievements, values and goals. Some have said that a fourth element was discussed — a reference to the revived EU constitution.
Geoff Hoon, Europe Minister, acknowledged yesterday that Berlin was pushing for fresh momentum on a revived constitutional treaty. Mr Hoon said: “I am not faulting the Germans for wanting to try and make progress.” But he went on to insist that the declaration would be a benign document of no more than two or three pages that would not commit Britain to signing the new constitutional treaty.
Britain wanted “something that celebrates what has been achieved and charts a way forward without detailed prescription,” Mr Hoon said in Brussels.
“Certainly the British Government would want to ensure that the EU was capable of taking effective decisions, and that might well entail further institutional reform. But I don’t think that (the Berlin declaration) needs to be prescriptive,” he said. “If Britain signs up to further ‘institutional reform’, the context will be pored over because the phrase has become shorthand for the replacement constitution.”
Mrs Merkel was clear in a keynote speech to the Bundestag that she believes that the Berlin declaration and the constitution are inextricably linked. She said: “Conditions today are completely different to those 50 years ago. At that time, it was a question of rebuilding Europe and laying durable foundations for a prosperity which was in its infancy.
“Today it is a question of making adjustments which we so far have omitted to make, or have only half-completed, in order to adapt the European Union to its new size, on the one hand, and to a world which has changed completely, on the other.
“As holder of the EU presidency, the Federal Government is facing up to this responsibility. We intend to move the European project forward.”
Mr Hoon said that Tony Blair will argue at the EU summit that the Berlin declaration should be a short statement on the ways that the EU has been of benefit to its citizens and that it should outline its future plans.
“The Berlin declaration should be celebratory and visionary, setting out what we have achieved and where we want to go,” he said. “It will not be a shopping list and it should not concentrate on current issues. We should lift our eyes above immediate concerns.”
Downing Street would like to have a slimmed-down treaty, arguing that this would not need the referendum that was promised by Mr Blair to take place before adopting the former constitution.
Mr Hoon suggested that if the Berlin declaration mentioned the constitutional treaty it should be “a not-too-specific reference to a document whose status has yet to be resolved”.