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Saturday 18 November 2006
organised by the Federal Union


The Future of the European Constitution

Michael Rider
notes points made at a very worthwhile conference organised by the Federal Union at the London School of Economics, with contributions from three guest speakers.

Andrew Duff MEP, Lib-Dem East of England; ALDE (Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe) spokesman in the EP on constitutional affairs

Andrew Duff talked through the five principles set out in his B-Plan – How to rescue the European Constitution, published earlier in the week in the federalist Notre Europe (www.andrewduffmep.org.uk). The proposals listed five key areas of substance that are now required for the constitutional reform of the enlarged EU.
The economic governance of the EU should be strengthened, specifically in relation to the autonomy of the eurozone. The economic goals of the Lisbon agenda should be written into the new constitution.
The common architecture of an EU social model should be defined; those wishing to go further should then commit themselves through a protocol on a social union.
Combating climate change should become an imperative to which all common policies should conform, especially agriculture (which should be modernised and separated from fisheries), energy and transport. In this connection environmental and energy policies should be revised and upgraded.
The issue of the Union’s borders should be clarified, not least for the benefit of its citizens, concerned over the process of enlargement mistakenly seen as uncontrolled. The Copenhagen criteria (on enlargement) should be spelled out in the constitution, together with a clarification of the EU’s neighbourhood policy.
The outcomes of the financial review to be presented to the EC in 2008 will be timely enough for incorporation into the constitution. In addition to simplifying the current complexities, reforms need to address the key issues of :  revenue, which should be seen as fair and transparent; the adequacy of funds for meeting current political priorities; and the resolution of the EC’s long-standing financial management problems.
   
There would be an IGC in 2008 for the signature of whatever agreements are made on constitutional arrangements. A likely outcome might be a series of agreements between the EC and EP, with a conciliation mechanism. A solution for the referendum issue in the UK might be a consultative ballot.
Wayne David MP, Labour Caerphilly; member of the European Scrutiny Select Committee at Westminster

Wayne David was concerned primarily with the political dimension, and stressed the necessity for the democratic legitimacy of the EU’s new constitutional arrangements. He was concerned that as the reflection period drew to an end there was still little evidence of European elites responding to the aspirations of ordinary citizens. He criticised the British government for having contributed little to the reflection debate, beyond reminding the French of their responsibilities towards realigning their own public opinion.


In his view the British government should now:

address public concerns over the long-term enlargement of the Union

look to building on existing agreements in treaties already in place for the Union’s new constitutional arrangements

push for implementing non-controversial proposals – Union Foreign Minister; longer Presidency period; greater role for national parliaments; extension of QMV
   
There was no inevitability in the EU’s continuation, hence it was imperative to create a Europe that met common aspirations, which were often to be realised through comparatively minor issues. Bottom up rather than top down. He was opposed to a ‘flexible constitution’ that allowed member states opt-outs of key commitments, or any form of ‘associate membership’ for committed member states.
Michael Siebert, Political Section of the German Embassy

Michael Siebert addressed the process of achieving agreement as it related to the responsibilities of his country in the first Presidency of 2007. There was now a sense in mainland Europe that the constitutional issue should be moved on; except in eurosceptic Britain. Germany’s objective was to reach the original goals of the constitutional treaty by retrieving its substance. This would be the start of preparations for the new EC in 2009. Specific responsibilities for Germany included:

welcome to Bulgaria and Romania on their accession

preparation of the foreign policy conference in March; Iran on the agenda?

hosting in Berlin on 25 March a formal EU50 gathering; an opportunity to raise consciousness among EU citizens of the Union’s achievements. There would to this end be a ‘Berlin Declaration’.

coming to terms with the result of the French Presidential elections; the outcome could be the key to resolving the Union’s constitutional crisis. A road map on constitutional issues would be set out for the end-of- Presidency conference in June. The content of this was as yet a mystery even for the Germans; the starting point must still be the text of the constitutional treaty though compromises would be required. He noted that by 1 January 2007 eighteen of the 27 member states would have ratified the proposals.

What should the UK do ?

Revive the debate on the treaty – the UK has often underestimated the will of other member states to bind themselves together, eg Schengen, the euro. If no compromise is reached there is the danger of a two-speed Europe. Remember Ortega y Gasset: "Europe is not the problem, Europe is the solution".

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