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First discussion in Parliament of the new treaty proposals

Most of the MEPs taking part in the Constitutional Affairs Committee's first discussion on Monday of the proposed new EU treaty welcomed the agreement reached by the Member States, though there were reservations on certain issues, and some voices of outright opposition.

Early on Saturday morning, the European Council approved the mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), scheduled to start in July, to draw up a new EU treaty. Parliament will now draw up its opinion, without which, under article 48 of the current EU Treaty, the IGC cannot start its work. The views expressed during Monday's meeting were generally positive towards the IGC mandate, though the MEPs also highlighted the weaknesses of the agreement. “The substance of the constitution was maintained”, said rapporteur and committee chair Jo Leinen (Germany).

He listed the legal personality, the increased use of qualified majority voting and of co-decision, the inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the mention of a EU common approach on energy and climate change, as “important steps forward”. Nevertheless, he added: “I deplore the fact that the text is not clear: too many declarations and protocols are attached”. Leinen concluded, with a reference to the British opt-outs: “We already have the impression of a two speed Europe”, since it was clear that not all Member States will be going forward at the same time.

Support for the overall package, shortcomings identified
Indeed, several MEPs stressed the shortcomings of the compromise reached by national governments. Elmar Brok (Germany), EP co-rapporteur on the roadmap for the constitutional process, agreed that “the balance is generally positive”. Yet, he said, it was a “partial failure”. In fact, if the original intention was to address people's concerns, the result is “a text which is more complex than the constitution,” he said, adding: “We need to watch closely to make sure nobody tries to put a cuckoo's egg in our nest”.

Andrew Duff (UK) said: “Despite complications, the outcome at the end of the IGC will be a stronger Union, with greater capacity to act”. He was positive about the proposals for the participation of national parliaments in the decision making process: “We can be satisfied that there is no threat of a 3rd legislative chamber”. Duff criticized the UK decision not to join the rest of the EU on the Charter and on criminal matters.

Johannes Voggenhuber (Austria) said: “Welcome back to the Union of footnotes.” On the one hand, he welcomed the fact that “a constitutional entity is the result of this Summit”. On the other, he criticized several aspects of the IGC mandate, including the new articles on energy policy and the fight against climate change, which he said were “new objectives with no actual competences”.

Comparisons to the Constitutional Treaty
According to Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (Germany): “The new text is less transparent and less close to citizens” than the draft constitution. She said that the British opt-out from the Charter may affect also non-UK citizens living in the UK, thus “creating a discriminatory situation”. Jens-Peter Bonde (Denmark), a convinced opponent of the Constitutional Treaty from the start, said: “I preferred the draft constitution because at least it was honest”.

He said the new treaty would be “an organized cheat” against EU citizens. He criticized some of the proposals, such as the legal personality or the reinforcement of the role of the Commission President, as features of a state. The report by Jo Leinen on the IGC mandate will be put to the vote in the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 9 July 2007 in Strasbourg and is scheduled for debate and vote by the plenary later the same week. (EP Press)