The Constitutional Summit: Who wants what and why?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The impasse over the Constitutional Treaty shows that old cleavages and conflicts in Europe are resurfacing, with new coalitions of interest becoming apparent, write Dominik Hierlemann (Bertelsmann Stiftung) and Sarah Seeger (Centre for Applied Policy Research) in a June 2007 paper for the Spotlight Europe series.

Hierlemann and Seeger outline the positions of the member states towards treaty reform – France advocates a simplified Treaty – to be adopted as soon as possible – incorporating the institutional arrangements of the Constitutional Treaty, but dropping all state-like symbolism – including the term Constitution, references to an anthem and a flag and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

Sarkozy believes that this will dispel fears of a European ‘super-state’, while allowing the retention of badly needed institutional reforms, claim Hierlemann and Seeger – such as the double-majority voting system, the extension of majority voting, the strengthening of the co-decision procedure, and reform of the composition of the Commission. 

The authors accuse Britain of continually making trouble and slowing down European integration. In this case, the UK rejects all Constitutional symbolism, and calls for modest alterations to the Treaty of Nice instead of a new Treaty, they claim. They concede that the UK is in favour of action at EU level – particularly in energy and climate change policy – though on the basis of unanimity and with few competences being transferred to Brussels. As a referendum on a new Treaty would probably lead to its rejection, the UK prefers ratification in parliament, which requires a simplified Treaty without constitutional adornments, they observe. 

Voting rights are of vital importance to Poland, as the government is afraid that Germany will attain a predominant position in the EU under the Constitutional Treaty’s arrangements, claim the authors – thus the Poles are against the double majority system, preferring the weighting of votes in the Nice Treaty. 

Reaching agreement at the summit is the priority for the German government, as its presidency will be judged on whether or not it manages to pave the way for a new treaty, states the paper. Germany would like to retain as much of the substance and institutional balance of the Constitutional Treaty as possible, and will not accept the omission of references to European values, though is willing to compromise on constitutional symbolism, the authors assert. 

The member states that have already ratified the constitution – including Spain, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg – want to preserve as much of it as possible. 

Hierlemann and Seeger conclude that it is currently unrealistic to envisage a withdrawal of the states which are unable to agree to a revision of the treaty, or the foundation of a new Union by states which wish to proceed jointly on the basis of the Constitutional Treaty – as the political and economic costs for those countries that are not involved would be too high. 

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