[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 19:35 GMT
Complaints over EU birthday draft
Mark Mardell
By Mark Mardell
BBC Europe editor

Flags outside the European Parliament on 14 March 2007
The EU is set to mark 50 years since the founding Treaty of Rome
The European Parliament has heard complaints that the Declaration of Berlin, planned to celebrate the European Union's 50th birthday, is being written in secret.

The parliament had a debate, but nothing to debate.

The leader of the Liberal Group, Graham Watson, called it a "ghost declaration" and said it was "bizarre" to talk about the declaration without even a draft in front of them.

The Green's Daniel Cohn-Bendit said: "If we don't speak publicly about such documents the people will not follow us."

But there is a reason for the secrecy.

The Germans are determined that the declaration of Berlin will be short, easy for everyone to understand and will slip down as easily as the free sausages and beer that will be on offer at the party in 10 days' time.

As one diplomat deeply involved put it, Eurobabble is banned.

Bland is beautiful

Everyone knows that a camel is a horse designed by committee, so you can see their point.

But the price of not running the text through 27 committees and countless drafts is that no-one really knows what is going on.

The Germans insist that it is not simply a closely-guarded secret: it actually has not been written

It is not just members of the European Parliament who are being kept in the dark. Neither Tony Blair nor his 26 counterparts throughout Europe have seen it either.

Of course, there has been consultation. After all, it would be a bit embarrassing if just one of the leaders of the EU's 27 countries took their first look at the text during the ceremony and then threw down their pen and walked away in disgust.

So what are known glamorously as "focal points" - senior diplomats mostly from the prime minister or president's office - are being kept in touch. They will have made it clear what each country expects and what it cannot stomach.

The Germans insist that it is not simply a closely-guarded secret: it actually has not been written. They say that two men in a Berlin backroom are staring at their computers and scratching their heads right now.

They may conclude bland is beautiful. This is not one of those crunch negotiations where someone has to be offended, or to lose out.

Defining "the future"

Mentioning the achievements of the EU is relatively easy. Peace, democracy and stability will be in there. So will reuniting Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier listens to the debate in parliament
German officials are seeking movement on the constitution

So too the Eurozone and the passport-free zone, even though some countries including Britain are not members. The UK has stressed it will not take offence at the mere mention of these subjects.

But it is obvious where the difficulty will lie.

Although there is no text, there is a one-page structure with several different headings. Under the last one, "the future", there is a blank.

If part of the future is defined as taking more countries into the EU, France will not like it. If there is too much stress on a "social" Europe others, including Britain, will have problems.

The big one is the constitution. The Germans are determined to breath new life into this document by the summer. But they insist that they will not try to sneak anything into the declaration.

However the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, seemed to suggest something bolder when he spoke to the European Parliament.

He said that it should mention getting a new "institutional settlement" in place by 2009. That is EU code for the rule changes in the constitution.

He added: "We very much hope the Berlin Declaration will contain a joint commitment - a commitment to work to get the preconditions we need in place."

The Germans have set themselves a tricky goal.

Eurobabble is not written by highly literate, intelligent people because they set out to baffle. Not often anyway.

The written conclusions to so many a meeting are dull and complex because they are balanced with a lawyer's skill and diplomat's nuance because an idea or a word has been inserted in one place to meet once concern, offset by another phrase later to satisfy the opposing lobby.

The Germans may find clarity is not everything it's cracked up to be.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific