The essence of the EU's draft constitutional treaty should be preserved when EU governments seek to agree a new text, but the language should be improved to win public support.
This was the broad consensus that emerged from an EP Constitutional Affairs Committee meeting on 28 February to discuss the outcome of a controversial conference, held on 26 January in Madrid, of EU Member States that had ratified the draft constitution. The outcome of the Madrid conference (which had prompted fears that it might widen differences between those Member States that had ratified the draft and those that had not) was presented to the Constitutional Affairs Committee by Luxembourg Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Nicolas Schmit and Spanish State Secretary for the European Union Navarro Gonzáles.
The Madrid meeting's aim - „to change the atmosphere in Europe, to show to citizens that there is a commitment to change the situation” - had been achieved, said Schmit, recalling that 18 Member States had already approved the draft constitutional treaty and that just two had rejected it. „It is necessary to remind citizens that a majority has already ratified the Treaty. There have been no pauses in the ratification process: 5 more countries have ratified the text” (since the Dutch referendum), he said. Commenting on the Madrid conference participants, Navarro Gonzáles said „We represented the 60% of EU population and the majority of the Member States: we felt we had the legitimate right to meet”.
Support for the „Treaty +” solution
The great majority of committee members backed the Madrid initiative, agreeing that it had helped to re-launch the constitutional process. There was also a broad consensus on the need to preserve the substance of the draft treaty and to try to improve it to address people's concerns. Both the Ministers and most of the MEPs also expressed support for the steps that the EU's Germany Presidency plans to take to end the impasse. „We want to preserve the substance of this Treaty, since there is no alternative”, said Schmit.
Navarro agreed, declaring his full support for the constitutional process. „The future of Europe is about us, is about our future”, he said, adding that „we are prepared to amend the treaty if necessary”. He suggested that the draft constitution text could be improved, for example, by including provisions on the fight against climate change. He added: „We need to look for alternatives if we want to find the way out of the impasse.”
Committee Chairman Jo Leinen (Germany), proposed discussing the desirability of organizing a follow-up to the Madrid meeting and recalled the high costs, for all EU citizens, of not having a Constitution. The draft treaty „has great democratic legitimacy” and the substance of the text must be preserved, said the Constitutional Affairs Committee's co-rapporteur on the Road Map for the Constitutional process, Elmar Brok (Germany). „It must be clear that is not for the demands of one or two countries that the rest of the EU must give up its views”, he added.
The other co-rapporteur, Enrique Barón Crespo (Spain), observed that „there are many reasons to back the constitution”, since approving it would help Europe to fight terrorism and improve its energy policy. Jens-Peter Bonde (Denmark), one of the few critics of the Madrid conference, deplored the lack of transparency, as „all meetings were held behind closed doors”. The best way to improve transparency to would be to hold „an EU-wide referendum on the same day in all Member States”, he suggested.
Concluding the debate, Navarro recommended convening an Intergovernmental Conference to end the impasse. „The idea is to have it before the summer, with a clear mandate on which points we want to look at”, he said. Schmit rejected the idea of a „mini-treaty”, i.e. of ratifying a shorter text including just the institutional reforms. „Only the constitutional treaty can properly address the main challenges facing the EU, such as the future of social services and the democratic deficit”, he said. (EP Press)