The Day in Politics
Agence Europe - 3 December 2003
The Italian Presidency reserves itself the right to present, at the Intergovernmental Conference on 8 December in Brussels just a few days before the European Council, "new reflection" on the elements of the future constitutional Treaty on which there is still no convergence at the IGC conclave in Naples, it was announced on Wednesday at the European Parliament in Brussels by EU Council President Roberto Antonione. Mr Antonione acknowledged that institutional issues are always the most sensitive, as mainly illustrated by the conclave's discussion on double majority in Council. Stances are still far from convergent between those who defend the Nice provisions to the very end and those who believe the double State-population majority in Council proposed by the European Convention cannot be renounced, he admitted. He noted that, in order to find a solution, there must be proof of "lucidity" and "farsightedness". He added: "It is necessary to examine the proposals looking a long way ahead till after 2009" (Ed.: the date when the Nice rules will be applied, rules that some States would like to extend still further, whereas, in Naples, Franco Frattini had not wanted to talk of a review clause for examining the way the Nice system works with, as an afterthought, the idea of maintaining it). Mr Antonione gave a warning saying that all actors should show proof of flexibility in order to "lay the foundations for the Europe of the 21st century" and in the knowledge that there will be "equal dignity for all Member States" they should, in this negotiation, "give up the logic of fair returns whereby each concession should correspond to equivalent gain". If this is not so, there is the risk of "undermining the very foundations of the Union", the Italian Secretary of State for Foreign affairs warned. He concluded: "Yes to equality. But no Member State will be able to put a brake on the process of European integration, and those who try to do so should have to answer to citizens and to history for the integration process. Approval of the Constitution will be a success for all, or a failure for the Union".
Romano Prodi issues warning but mainly regrets lack of progress on more flexible review procedures
In his speech, European Commission President Romano Prodi deplored the fact that: "The IGC has so far been more occupied with internal disputes between Member States than with creating the right instruments for Europe's ambitions". He considered it "disappointing that there was no progress whatsoever on adoption of a more flexible procedure to review the policy part of the Constitution". He promised: "The Commission will support all the Presidency's efforts in this direction. Since new challenges may emerge, the Constitution should not be a straitjacket on future action". In his view, the only "major progress" so far has been in clarifying a structured cooperation on defence, but that "for all other issues, the risk remains that the IGC might take decision-making a step back to the intergovernmental method". This, he said, is mainly true for cooperation on criminal law, "at a time when all leaders are aware of the threat of international crime and terrorism". He continued: "Some ministers insist that more intergovernmentalism would strengthen economic policy coordination, while what is really needed is a stronger European capacity to put economic governance at the service of a growth strategy. Some countries would like to reintroduce the veto even in areas where the Convention proposed abolishing it, in trade policy for instance". In his view, "Europe, if it does not grasp the nettle, risks becoming a marginal continent surrounded by other powerful actors" as the draft Constitution in its present form perhaps provides Europe with instruments for acting more effectively "nothing less, but nothing more". The draft "does not create a political project for the future", Mr Prodi regretted. The true question, as he sees it, will be that of knowing whether the leaders of Member States "will have the collective capacity to adopt the necessary instruments which any European project will need in the future". As far as institutional issues are concerned, Mr Prodi warned: "powers in crucial areas such as state- aid control should not be diluted at the last minute". Also "let there be no mistake about it. The Commission will hold out against any weakening of the powers of the European Parliament, especially in budgetary matters". For the Council, the Commission continues to prefer a voting system founded on 50% of States and 50% of the population, Mr Prodi insists, who states that, in any case, the Intergovernmental Conference will not be able to decide on a voting system which would make Council decision-making even more difficult than the Nice system.
To conclude, "a constitution that is worse than Nice" is simply indefensible...we should not forget the first referendums on the Constitution will be taking place in less than six months after the conclusion of the Intergoverrnmental Conference.
Debate: MEPs torn between optimism and fear - Daniel Cohn-Bendit says don't sign up to any bad reforms
The debate demonstrated that MEPs, although they recognised certain progress, especially since the Naples conclave, were still worried about some important issues. Budgetary powers of the European Parliament, for example, on which the CDU MEP, Elmar Brok, had particularly highlighted. Brok is one of Parliament's representatives at the IGC: proposal of the Ecofin council (that Franco Frattini did not want to look at the matter again: Editor's note), which would bring the EP back to the situation of 1978, he exclaimed. He confirmed his sharp opposition to any "rendezvous clause" on the Nice system of voting at the Council and to any arrangement that would give the future President of the European council any influence on the different Council or on the legislative process. As for the European Minister for Foreign Affairs, he admitted that he did not understand why the different Foreign Affairs Ministers did not want to call him a "Minister". The President of the Socialist group Enrique Baron thought that there was room for adjustment in the proposal on double majority but criticised the Nice system. He also considered that the IGC should not consider that the abolition of the legislative council was "in the bag". The president of the Liberal group Graham Watson was also against the obduracy of the Finance Ministers on budgetary questions, pointing out that the "power of the purse" was traditionally in the hands of parliament. On the subject of international political questions that the European Council of Brussels would be dealing with, he chose to focus on the treatment suffered by prisoners in Guantanamo, pointing out that Dostojevski said that you could tell what a country was like by its prisons.
Daniel Cohn Bendit said that intergovernmental aspects wee not going well and that the results of the IGC appeared, for the instant, to be terrible and that it was therefore necessary to have the courage to say no and not sign if the Brussels agreement meant begin the Nice farce again. He also insisted that they had spoken of dying for Danzig and the Poles dying for Poland and Mr Prodi dying for the budget. Mr Bendit said that he did not want to die for Brussels. He recognised that governments had the habit of laughing as the parliament had been unable to say yes but rallied round in the end. He warned them that they had been incapable of deciding with them but had absolutely no ability for causing damage as this constitution needed ratifying and they were addressing citizens. Rather than seeking absolutely to conclude at Brussels, they ought to possibly continue the IGC under the Irish presidency or the Luxembourg presidency in order to have better results he said concluding "it is never too late to end, sometimes it is too soon. Do not sign a text you will be ashamed of, as you are ashamed of Nice". Speaking on behalf of the GUE/NGL Pernilla Frahm, from Denmark, said she was also very negative, but for different reasons. In her view, the Convention has "raised the European banner very high, perhaps too high". What can one say, she exclaimed, of a Constitution on which the citizens of all Member Sates are called upon to give their opinion?
Gerard Collins, UEN Ireland, mainly insisted on certain concerns aired by the small countries, such as the fact of having a Commissioner with full voting rights, and on politically sensitive issues for some Member Sates such as taxation (which must at all cost remain under national competence) or defence. Jens-Peter Bonde, President of the EDD Group, restated his opposition to a Constitution which, he said, would transfer large sections of power from national parliaments to "bureaucrats who decide behind closed doors in Brussels", namely to the Council working groups. Finally, Italian Radical Marco Pannella was ironical about the announcements concerning the harmonisation of the stances of Member States. He noted that, in fact, one sees Spain and Poland but also the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark and Estonia in favour of keeping the Council voting system decided in Nice. On international policy themes, after having accused European "pacifists" for being "those of 1939", he asked the European Council to "take an initiative on Iraq", and call on the UN and on the United States to reach "peace procedure" to put an end to the current tragedy and to exile Saddam Hussein.
The German Social-Democrat representative of the EP to the IGC, Klaus Hansch, praised the Italian Presidency for "trying to stay as close as possible to the result of the Convention", and proposing steps forward such as a reference to equal opportunities among Union values, or qualified majority in certain CFSP cases. "This is real progress", he said, stressing the need to defend the Parliament's budgetary prerogatives. British Liberal Democrat Andrew Duff said that any revision clause would be unacceptable. In the past, resignation was more the order of the day, with the view that Treaties such as Nice were "better than nothing", observed Austrian Green Johannes Voggenhuber, adding that they must clearly state that "a bad Constitution is not better than nothing". Naples brought progress, said Jose Ribeiro e Castro (UEN, Portugal), congratulating the Italian Presidency. He referred in particular to the step towards one Commissioner per Member State. He pleaded in favour of a reference to Christian heritage in the preamble to the future Constitution, but opposed Spain and Poland's position. "Spain should understand that it is the biggest of the small countries, not the smallest of the big countries", said Mr Ribeiro, calling for a Europe in which all Member States were "medium-sized". He added that we do not "need countries with dreams of grandeur". Scottish National Party MEP Neil MacCormick spoke again about the minimum number of seats in the European Parliament. Whilst he welcomed the fact that countries such as Malta had a minimum of five seats, he explained that increasing the number of seats for smaller countries must not reduce the parliamentary representation of regions such as Wales or Scotland. British Conservative Charles Tannock criticised a draft which, he feels, will "create a federal super State", and called for a referendum in the United Kingdom on the result of the IGC. Having congratulated the Italian Presidency, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz asked to keep a reasonable number of seats in the European Parliament, which should maintain its effectiveness and not turn into a kind of "People's Congress of China".
In answer, Mr Antonione said: "If this comes off, it will not be a victory for the Italian Presidency but a victory for us all". He promised to "stay as close as possible to the Convention's draft", to try to improve things and refuse any "third-rate compromise".
President Prodi called upon the Presidency "not to take lightly certain points which have disappeared, such as the Legislative Council", which was part of an architectural structure, the balance of which is threatened every time a particular point is touched. He also called upon all participants "not to run away from problems, because if we continue to run away, they will never be resolved".