Giscard: Treaty changes made to avoid referenda

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Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the ‘father’ of the EU Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, said the draft ‘Reform Treaty’ agreed at the June Summit only represented ‘cosmetic changes’ compared to the preivous version – in remarks that will comfort critics who argue that the new Treaty brings the Constitution in ‘by the back door’.

Discussing the new EU Treaty in Parliament a few days ahead of an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on 23 July, Giscard d’Estaing welcomed the fact that the current political agreement salvaged the substance of the Constitution.

Speaking at the constitutional affairs committee on 17 July, the former Convention president said: ”In terms of content, the proposals remain largely unchanged. They are simply presented in a different way.” He added: ”The reason is that the new text could not look too much like the constitutional treaty, so EU governments agreed on cosmetic changes to the constitution to make it easier to swallow.”

His remarks will reignite the debate on a referendum in the UK. British conservatives argue that the new Treaty seeks to reintroduce the draft EU Constitution ”by the back door”. Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope said: “The UK government stated that the new Treaty does not contain any constitutional element. I find it a cynical approach.”

He added: ”Giscard’s comments today simply reinforce what every other European leader has said about this new Treaty – the Constitution is back. We will keep up the pressure on Gordon Brown to come clean with the British people and offer the referendum they were promised by this government.”

Portuguese Foreign Minister Louis Amado said that the presidency would open the IGC on 23 July and was seeking an agreement on the new Reform Treaty at the informal 18-19 October meeting of Heads of State and Government.

Amado told MEPs: ”I feel that we have a clear mandate and we’ll be able to transfer it into a treaty.” He added: ”We do not want to open up the mandate because we risk missing the objective to have a treaty ready by the end of this year.”

Speaking to EURACTIV in an interview, Socialist MEP and President of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Jo Leinen, said the Reform Treaty is ”less than what is needed”, but nevertheless ”a huge improvement compared to the status quo” under the Nice Treaty regime. He argues that the EU Summit in June ”buried the Constitutional Treaty”.

Despite the euphoria following the June Summit, Leinen is cautious about the outcome of the IGC: ”Nothing is achieved before the new Treaty is written, signed and ratified. I would not be surprised if Lech Kazynski will tried to drive the rest of the EU crazy once more.”

He warns: ”If the Polish government tries to reopen a compromise they have already agreed on, they will see a red card from the Portuguese Presidency. If they block the new Treaty, a Europe of two speeds will have to emerge.”

To read the full interview with Jo Leinen, please click here.

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