Margot Wallström, European commissioner for communication, has warned Germany’s presidency of the EU against ignoring citizens for the sake of getting a quick agreement on the EU constitution.
“You cannot disregard citizens. It is important to make sure the renegotiation is not only about horse-trading behind closed doors,” Wallström said in an interview.
“I know the German presidency says that there should not be too many people involved in the negotiation, but we could invite the European Parliament, national parliaments, the civil society, to show that we welcome contributions on the future of Europe.”
Wilhelm Schönfelder, Germany’s top diplomat in Brussels, said last week that there could be a deal on a new version of the treaty as early as the end of next year. He also said negotiations should be handled by national capitals.
Wallström, a vice-president of the Commission, launched a Plan D for democracy after referenda in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution. She said she was not calling for a new Convention, replicating the 105 representatives of national governments and assemblies, the European Parliament and the Commission, which drafted the first text of the constitution. “This is not realistic, I don’t think member states want to invest in it,” she said.
But she added that getting input from citizens, national parliaments and the European Parliament would be crucial not only for showing that Europe listened to its people, but also for “anchoring” any new treaty text in the member states and helping it win their approval.
The commissioner urged “a co-ordinated effort, a public consultation on any new text simultaneously in all member states”.
“I am not talking only about referenda: if referenda are not possible, according to national traditions, different ways of consultation can be chosen: in some member states it could go through the national parliament, in others there could be consultation through electronic methods, and so on; the important thing is to consult the people.”
While member states could choose the method, “they should do it the same day, in a co-ordinated way, to give the impression the whole of Europe is engaged in this”, Wallström added.
“Ideally, we should have a new text in 2008, organise this public consultation in 2008 and have the text ready in 2009”, in time for the next elections for the European Parliament, she said.
Wallström will this weekend (15-16 December) attend a meeting of the Amato group on the future of Europe, to discuss ways to make any new treaty easier to ratify. Chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, the group brings together former EU leaders to debate solutions to the rejection of the EU constitution by citizens in France and the Netherlands in spring 2005. The commissioner is a member, in a personal capacity, of the group.
The group is to discuss whether new elements in the constitution should be separated out from those elements that are either taken from previous treaties or ‘codify’ current policies, and whether doing so and putting only the new bits to ratification would make it easier to get any new text adopted.
“If this helps, maybe, why not?” said Wallström.
The commissioner said she was “not convinced” by the idea of a ‘mini-treaty’ containing broadly the first two parts of the constitution, on institutional arrangements, but dropping the third part, on policies. “We should stay as close as possible to the current text,” she said.
By Dana Spinant
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