Europe set for constitutional revamp?

The Berlin Declaration has set out a timeline for an institutional renewal of the EU by 2009. However, opinions differ as to what should be included in the new EU Treaty.

In view of the tight timeline that EU leaders have set, the new treaty is likely to take over the main institutional changes of the EU Constitution agreed in 2004. On the policy side, there may be some new proposals on what to include in the treaty.

The Berlin Declaration text mentions as main future challenges:

  • Energy and climate change;
  • the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration, and; 
  • more co-operation in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in order to promote peace, freedom and development in the world.

The text also stresses the “social responsibility” of the European model and makes references to solidarity as one of the EU’s key values. Some member states, led by France, have declared that they want more ‘Social Europe’ included in the Constitution.

Merkel also said that she would continue her often-criticised strategy of holding secretive consultations with member states to shape the new treaty. Speaking at a press conference on 25 March 2007, she said: “Not everything can take place in the public domain. There will have to be many consultations, including bilateral ones. This is by nature of the subject matter not possibel to do in public.” Merkel referred to the Rome Treaties, which were negotiated “behind closed doors”. She said: “That’s the way you have to do it.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "In order to be able to act and achieve our ideals, we need a new treaty." She particularly stressed the need for more Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) co-operation and a common energy policy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the EU needed "more effective rules". He added: "The sooner it is resolved, the better."

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said that Merkel's timetable for institutional reform by 2009 was unrealistic: "Realistically, we see 2009 as the year in which the text of the treaty is agreed on. For it to come into effect I’d say 2011 is realistic," he said.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus had criticised the 2009 deadline ahead of the anniversary Summit and underlined that for him a new treaty was not a priority.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: "We must conclude at the latest in December this year to make sure that a new treaty can enter into force before June 2009."

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said that further delaying a new treaty would make it "very difficult to have ratification in every country before 2009".

Pope Benedict criticised the Berlin Declaration for not mentioning the EU's Christian roots. "If on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome the governments of the EU want to get closer to their citizens, how can they exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity?", he asked.

A representative of the Social Platform, bringing together European Social NGOs commented: "As a social activist I don’t think we can say that we have built a European Union where solidarity goes hand in hand with market and competitiveness."

On 25 March 2007, EU leaders agreed to put the EU on a "renewed common basis" by 2009, at an informal summit to celebrate the EU's 50th anniversary.

A new treaty could be negotiated by the end of 2007 in an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) under the Portuguese EU Presidency, according to wishes expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However, EU leaders' opinions differ on what form the new treaty should take, following the failed referenda on the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands in 2005. While some seek to preserve its substance, others prefer a "minimalist" treaty that could be swiftly adopted without further public consultation.

  • At the EU Summit on 21-22 June 2007, the German Presidency is to present a road map for a new treaty.
  • An Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to discuss the new treaty could take place under the Portuguese EU Presidency from 1 July 2007.
  • EU leaders agreed to have a new treaty in place before the European Parliament elections in 2009.

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