‘Group of 18’ meets in Madrid to salvage EU Constitution

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The 18 EU member states that have ratified the stalled European Constitution meet in Madrid on 26 January 2007 in an attempt to save the substance of the text. But the initiative has already met with widespread criticism. 

Ministers and secretaries of state from the EU-18 member states are meeting in Madrid on 26 January to put new impetus to stalled EU constitution talks. The “friends of the Constitution” will argue that more than two-thirds of member states have already ratified the existing treaty in an attempt to preserve the substance of the current text.

The Spanish and Luxembourg initiators claim that they want to “assist the German Presidency in steering the debate on the Constitutional Treaty”, but some fear that the initiative may sideline the German plans.

Foreign Ministers Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg and Miguel Ángel Moratinos of Spain argue in a Communication that the main achievements of the current text in the areas of external action and establishing an area of freedom, security and justice, should be maintained. “The Constitutional Treaty is the best instrument at hand to consolidate the project of European integration,” the pair claim.

Portugal and Ireland, as well as an observer from the Commission, will also be present at the informal gathering.

External Affairs and Co-operation Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos will open the meeting, which will be chaired by Spanish Secretary of State Alberto Navarro and Luxembourgish European Affairs Minister Nicolas Schmit.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt urged the group to ensure not to weaken the current text of the Constitution. He said: "We must provide a counterweight to those who seek a minimalist solution. Verhofstadt added: "Those who have ratified the Constitution need to decide what to do next. We hear too much from those that have not ratified it."

France and the Netherlands, where the Constitution was rejected by referenda in 2005, oppose putting the current text to another vote. They favour entire parts to be dropped before holding another referendum.

German Chancellor and EU Presidency  holder, Angela Merkel, is holding informal discussions with member states on what to do with the Constitution. She would like to see a text adopted before the next European elections in 2009. She said: "Until June, we now have to come to new decisions." Merkel warned that "a failure would be a historical default".

In an article for the FT Giuliano Amatoformer Italian prime minister and vice-president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, argued that keeping the existing text would be a "provocation to voters who have already said 'No'". Instead, he favours the option of streamlining a new text by dropping the second and third parts, and thus only keeping the institutional provisions.

While the newly voted Czech government under Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek takes no position on the Constitution in its government programme, President Vaclav Klaus strongly criticises it. He writes in the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes:"The question is whether the path ahead leads through daily efforts to block a stealth unification, done permanently behind our backs by European politicians and bureaucrats." He added that the document should be "entirely different" from the one rejected in the French and Dutch votes.

MEP and Conservative leader Timothy Kirkhope said: "This crazily timed gathering gives false hope to the countries that want a Constitution and unnecessary fear to those, like the UK, that don't." He added: "The meeting is unhelpful, divisive and embarrassing to Germany which did not want it."

Following the failed referenda on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands in 2005, the EU has found itself in crisis. Up until now, the so-called "period of reflection" has not brought about a solution satisfactory to all.

So far, 18 of the 27 EU member states have ratified the Constitutional Treaty. They are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

  • The German EU Presidency wants to find an answer to the Constitutional impasse ahead of the EU Summit on 21-22 June 2007.
  • According to German plans, a new Constitutional Treaty should be adopted before the European Parliament elections in 2009.

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