EU leaders have almost all declined a proposal by French President Jacques Chirac to save the EU Constitution by splitting it up into single chapters and integrating those into the existing EU framework.
Talking to diplomats at the Élysée’s New Year reception, Mr. Chirac said that staying with the present state of the constitutional process would mean the EU would have to remain “in a state of inertia and paralysis”. Mr. Chirac argued for a group of “pioneer countries” to take the lead in bringing the process forward. He said he wished that at the June European Council member states’ leaders “could take the decisions needed to ensure a better functioning of the institutions, based on the existing treaties”. Mr. Chirac made specific reference to “three issues: internal security and justice, acting towards the exterior and EU defence, and a better participation of national parliaments in the EU decision making process”.
While Belgian media stressed that Mr. Chirac’s remarks echoed earlier proposals made by Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, politicians from other member states as well as Commission President José Manuel Barroso reacted in a less friendly manner. Mr. Barroso said that the last thing the European Union needed was to be further divided by competing blocs. Along the same lines, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel said: “I don’t want to see any new dividing lines running through Europe.” Hans-Gert Pöttering and Martin Schulz, the leaders of the Parliament’s PPE-DE and PSE groups, respectively, said they were also negative about the Chirac proposal.
Mr. Chirac’s initiative came as a surprise for the German government. The country’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Mr. Schüssel was currently consulting EU governments on proposals as to how to revive the constitutional process, but Mr. Chirac’s public initiative “doesn’t make things any easier […] That came a little to early for the EU Presidency”.
The constitutional process suffered another blow on 11 January 2006, when, following a meeting with his Austrian colleague Ursula Plassnik, the Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot declared that “the European constitution is dead for the Netherlands”.