A new EU constitution - a matter of the right packaging?
May 10, 2007 - 9:08:23 AM

Cork -, May 10 - When the European Union celebrated its 50th anniversary in March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she intended to present a roadmap setting out how Europe should go forward before Portugal took over the EU presidency this summer.

Yet, the word 'constitution' was strangely absent from the speeches that marked the great occasion in Berlin. With the German EU presidency ending on June 30, the people of Europe are left wondering what has happened to the proposals to place Europe on a renewed common basis.

Negotiations with representatives of the bloc's 27 member states are currently underway. Germany intends to preserve as much substance as possible of the existing treaty.

But the task is now to find out what individual countries want from a constitution and to agree on the highest common denominator, German government circles say.

'We are currently in an intensive negotiation process,' a spokesman for the German government, Dr Thomas Steg told journalists at a recent press briefing.

'It is much too soon to start speculation on the results of the negotiations between the heads of states and governments in around six weeks,' Steg said.

Yet, for some legal experts, an EU coonstitution already exists.

A constitution in the legal sense was just a common agreement to set up certain institutions and agree to cooperate on certain levels - nothing more and nothing less.

However, many people associate the word 'constitution' with the idea of a nation state, Pernice pointed out. This gives them the wrong impression of what such a document would actually mean, and would explain the failed referenda on the constitution in France and the Netherlands.

Yet, nobody wants to deprive individual member states of their sovereignty. According to Pernice, the 'genius' of the EU lies exactly in its voluntary membership.

Surely, the new document would also make some additions to the existing treaties. There would be a union President, replacing the 6-months rotating presidency that exists now, a foreign minister, and a preamble addressing the common values and aims of the EU, a declaration of rights as well as the establishing of common symbols such as a union flag, an anthem and a motto.

Yet, none of the member states would lose any powers.

Not everyone is happy to use the word 'constitution' so lightly, however.

Linguists such as Dr Simo Maatta of Joensuu University in Finland, argue that the legal language of the document itself might be intimidating and that the authoritative fixing of the common values of the union might be enough to put people off the idea of a constitution. The current vagueness on where the union stood, on the other hand might be its very appeal.

Because the text 'materializes ideologies,' Maatta thinks that the document should be easy enough to translate into all the different EU languages without ambiguities.

'The fact that legislation is binding in several languages is a particularly important concern: terms as simple as possible should be used, synonyms and different expressions for the same idea ...avoided,' he argues.

'It's all a question of packaging,' Pernice says. If the document was no longer called a constitution, the people of Europe might be more likely to accept it.

The expert on European constitutional law is confident that Merkel will be able to stick to her time frame.

'In summer the basic components of the treaty will be in place, in autumn we will have negotiations, in winter it could be ready,' Pernice thinks. That way the treaty could be ratified before the European parliamentary elections in 2009.

'I believe in it,' Pernice says.

Or, as Walter Hallstein, the first President of the EU Commission, put it back then: 'Anyone who does not believe in miracles in European affairs is not a realist.'

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