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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 18:13 GMT
The European Constitution returns
By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News

The corpse of the European Constitution is coming back to life and staggering around the EU's corridors of power.

A mummy
Two years ago, the constitution appeared to be dead
Buried by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, it has been resurrected by the EU's German presidency and put on the table of a summit in June.

Germany aims to produce a "roadmap" pointing the way to ratification by 2009, and has the full support of another 17 of the EU's 27 member states, which have also completed or all but completed ratification.

Meanwhile, both leading candidates for the French presidency have been laying out their plans to turn France's No into a Yes, once they have been elected.

But where will all this activity lead?

Will any new treaty resemble the old one and will it be ratified by popular vote, or by national parliaments in what some critics are describing as a "backroom deal"?

Different ideas

Germany's plan is to keep the constitution largely intact.

Tony Blair and Angela Merkel
Any agreement on a roadmap will have to be unanimous
It could be supplemented by an additional "social protocol" to reassure French No-voters, who saw the constitution as a manifesto for pan-European free markets, Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested.

Observers also anticipate changes to Part III of the treaty, which rehashes and supersedes earlier EU treaties.

But according to British MEP Andrew Duff, a member of the convention which drafted the original text, Germany will not re-open discussion of Part I, which contains all the best-known ideas, such as a new EU presidency, a foreign minister, and a new voting system in the Council of Ministers.

So if Germany gets its way, the new treaty will look very much like the old one, even if it is no longer called a "constitution" - and governments that promised voters a referendum will have no excuse for changing their mind.

But Germany may not get its way.

Whatever is agreed at the June summit will have to be agreed unanimously, and a number of countries have very different ideas.

More No votes?

"The main problem with the constitution is that it is dead. It's dead because of the rejection of it by the French and Dutch people," says Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, an adviser to Poland's president and prime minister.

"It was a project made by a small elite group of Euro-enthusiasts, people who are addicted to the idea of a big federal new state of Europe. It was out of touch with so many feelings, which are in the European nations today."

The "sherpa" representing the Czech Republic in confidential talks on the constitution with the German presidency, Jan Zahradil, describes it more guardedly as a "lame duck" which "cannot be revived as simply as some politicians think".

British officials, meanwhile, argue that any course of action that ended in a resumption of the round of ratification referendums would be a recipe for disaster.

"We don't want to set up Europe for another failure that would result in more resounding No's," says one.

Amending treaty

All three countries say the EU is not in crisis and can continue comfortably with its existing rule book.

People started to get enthusiastic about a grandiose project but it didn't come off
UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett
While the Polish and Czech leaders say they are ready to negotiate a completely new Basic Treaty the British are reluctant to go even this far.

"It's a common failing, isn't it? People started to get enthusiastic about a grandiose project but it didn't come off," UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in October.

In a ministerial statement to Parliament in December, Mrs Beckett said the UK would "favour proposals that modernise the workings of the EU".

But the UK's "overall aim", the statement said, would be to maintain the EU's focus on the delivery of practical benefits to citizens - in other words, to prevent the EU getting obsessed with institutional reform.

British officials point out that the only essential treaty change needed in the foreseeable future - a review of the size of the Commission, as required by the Nice Treaty - can be tacked onto Croatia's accession treaty if it joins the EU, as it hopes to, by 2009.

The most they want to contemplate is a treaty that makes modest amendments to earlier EU treaties, which few countries saw necessary to ratify by referendum.

This would be just one more amending treaty, not a constitution.

Ratification routes

Germany's near-impossible task is to find some common ground between countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK, and the enthusiasts who would prefer to add to the constitution rather than take anything away from it.

Michal Kaminski
Michal Kaminski: Poland will definitely vote on a new treaty
In a declaration to be signed on the EU's 50th birthday in Berlin next month the member states may agree to seek solutions to the constitution problem, but negotiations will only begin in earnest after the French presidential election in May.

By the end of June, Germany is hoping to have agreed a timetable for further action, and something about the "substance" of a future treaty.

If it succeeds, an inter-governmental conference will be called later in 2007 or in 2008, to hammer out a new text.

What this text looks like will determine how it is ratified in the member states - by parliament or public vote - and different countries may take different paths.

One of France's leading presidential candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy, has proposed that the new text should be slim enough to render a referendum unnecessary. His opponent, Segolene Royal, on the other hand, favours the full constitution, with the addition of a social protocol - and a new referendum.

The new Dutch government has asked a body called the State Council to rule on whether a referendum is necessary, amid expectation that it will say No.

Ireland and Denmark will probably have a referendum in any case.

The UK would hold a referendum on a constitution, but not on a simple amending treaty, while Poland is keen for a public vote on any treaty that meets its terms.

These include preservation of the existing voting system in the Council of Ministers, and a reference to Christianity in any section touching on European history and values.

"I don't see a reason to vote on a document that is dead, I would not want to spend taxpayers' money on it," says Michal Kaminski.

"But if there will be a new treaty, definitely, we will have a referendum."


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