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Published:June 25th, 2007 04:35 EST
EU Abandons Constitution Dreams

EU Abandons Constitution Dreams

By Krzys Wasilewski

In what appears to have been one of the toughest EU summits in its history, the 27 EU leaders replaced the already rejected Constitution project with the less ambitious Reform Treaty.

The European Union has been in a serious crisis since the French and Dutch rejected the European Constitution in 2005. It took more than two years for the member states to get used to the idea that the result of several years of intense talks had been thrown into the bin. The disappointment was so much more painful since France had always been perceived as the steering wheel of European integration, with its politicians playing the major role in the drawing of the document. Moreover, the countries which had already voted in the Constitution– 18 of the total number of the 25 members states (Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007)– refused to accept the fact that two countries could stop the whole project.

On January 1, 2007, Germany took over the EU presidency for six months. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made it clear that she wanted to see the European Constitution reactivated before she passed the rotating leadership on next in line Portugal. Not everyone welcomed her statement with satisfaction; most audible in their complaints were Great Britain and Poland. The former, traditionally branded as a black sheep of the European family, feared that the Constitution would turn the EU from a loose economic and political body into a highly centralized federation. No Brit would ever agree on it in a referendum; no prime minister would ever risk his political career by trying to steamroll it in the parliament.

Poland, on the other hand, was content with an operative treaty– the Treaty of Nice– which guaranteed Poland almost as much power in the decision making process as twice as big Germany. If the Treaty of Nice were to be replaced by the Constitution, Warsaw would be demoted to the role of an observer rather than an EU top player. Instead, the Poles came with a proposal to introduce a completely new system of counting votes– the so called square root system where the strength of a country would be assessed by taking the square root of its population. It would not give Poland as many votes as the Treaty of Nice did, but at least the hegemony of the Big Four (France, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy) would be considerably reduced.

Not surprisingly, few experts were optimistic when the summit, ending German presidency, kicked off in Brussels last Friday. Great Britain threatened to veto the talks (and, consequently, reject the Constitution) if the Charter of Fundamental Rights was brought about. Poland stuck to its square root system and threatened to veto the talks if her proposals were not discussed. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic demanded more power be given to national parliaments; otherwise, they would consider vetoing the talks. In the system, when a single country, even as small as Luxembourg, can block talks at any stage, such a situation portended nothing positive. But the European Union would not have survived 50 years if its leaders had not known how to strike a deal.

After 30 hours of threats and pleas repeated at countless meetings, Chancellor Merkel could proudly announce that a compromise had been reached. In the truly Salomon solution, the 27 EU leaders gathered in the Belgium capital, decided that the Treaty of Nice would remain in force until 2014 and extend an additional three years, should Poland or any other country express such a will. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, came back from his last meeting equally satisfied since the Charter of Fundamental Rights (which, the British feared would be superior to their own legal system) had been discreetly dismissed.

Finally, to the applause of some countries, the term “constitution” had been replaced with “Reform Treaty,” forcibly indicating that dreams of a pan European state belong to the distant future.

For many years, EU leaders have seemed at odds with the majority of their voters. First, they pushed the Constitution despite alarming signals from opinion polls conducted all over Europe. When it was overwhelmingly rejected by the people of France and Holland, instead of accepting the failure, politicians searched a way to implement their brainchild at all costs. Their obstinacy went so far that, when Poland threatened to veto the latest summit, Germany suggested expelling Poland from the decision making process.

Finally, on a sunny Saturday morning, there came a refreshing breeze. The compromise allowed all 27 leaders to return to their homelands as victors. But despite broad smiles on their faces, the European Union still remains in crisis. Until Brussels understands that no treaty or document can work without the support of average people, the EU will be trapped in an expensive quagmire of political and emotional issues.

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