Germany assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1, and „naturally” the constitutional treaty will be on the agenda, Merkel said yesterday after a meeting of the German Cabinet attended by European Commission President Jose Barroso. „We need a constitutional treaty and we need it before the next European election” due in mid-2009. „That's why we set ourselves a timeframe,” Merkel said. „The German presidency should have the goal of facilitating agreement on a roadmap, a timeframe, a way to proceed, and I want us to be very ambitious in engaging this goal.” German efforts to revive the constitution may ease concerns about further European political integration raised after the rejection of the EU constitution last year in referendums held by France and the Netherlands, two of the bloc's founding members. The votes weakened the euro and left the EU with a decision-making system that Barroso says will make further expansion impossible after Bulgaria and Romania join in 2007, bringing the bloc to 27 countries. Failure to revive the project may weaken bonds within a region that's set to stretch to the Black Sea and Syria's border.
A „period of reflection” on the stalled project will end with Germany's presidency. The process of drawing up a new rulebook will last at least until 2009, EU leaders have said. „Of course, the constitution won't be signed by all states at the end of our six-month presidency,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview with yesterday's Bild Zeitung. „But I'm optimistic that we'll have a clear schedule on which we can continue our efforts for the EU constitution.” There are „great expectations regarding Germany's presidency,” Barroso told the press conference yesterday. „I think it is not fair to put all the weight, all the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of Germany.” Merkel's EU chairmanship will coincide with the election of a successor to French President Jacques Chirac, allowing a new French government to decide whether to try again for ratification or work with the rest of the EU to shape a new treaty. (Bloomberg)