Commission President José Manuel Barroso changed his plans to hold informal talks with a hand-picked group of key EU leaders on the stalled EU Constitution, after controversy broke out over the number of invitees.
On 25 April 2007, the Commission stated that “in the light of recent contacts and in order to avoid speculations about European divisions” the “brainstorming” meeting had to be scaled down. Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen confirmed that the move was intended to “make sure there is no misunderstanding or speculation”.
The informal meeting, to take place in Sintra, Portugal, on 12-13 May, will convene the German Presidency, as well as future Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies and European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering.
The meeting was originally foreseen to host a limited number of EU member states, especially those critical on constitutional issues, such as the UK, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic.
The selective invitation caused controversy with member states that had not been invited to debate such an important issue. The Austrian government, one of the non-invitees, expressed its “astonishment” and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told AFP on 25 April 2007: “We have not received an invitation. We are examining how to react to this.”
The Commission spokesperson underlined that it was “not at all” unusual for the Commission to organise such a “brainstorm” meeting. However, the meeting initiated by President Barroso is not related to the formal process of consultations that the German Presidency is currently undertaking.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed her participation in Barroso’s “brainstorm” and the other presidencies are expected to follow.
Germany is currently holding bilateral “closed-door” talks with member states on the EU Constitution, ahead of the June EU Summit, where it wants to present a road map for the constitutional treaty, which was put on hold following its rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
The German Presidency has submitted 12 questions to member states, which will serve as a basis for discussions on the future of the constitutional treaty. These include issues such as dropping the ‘Constitution’ label, preserving the institutional changes proposed by the EU Constitution, including enlargement criteria in the treaty, underlining the EU’s social dimension and referring to specific policies such as energy and climate change.