January 26, 2007
Monty Merkel and the Holy Grail
A few months ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s words were: “I would consider it an historical failure if we do not succeed in working out the substance of the Constitutional Treaty by the time the next European elections take place”, adding that she and the German government would “work intensively during the six month presidency so that such a Treaty can go into force”.
Indeed, less that a month after the beginning of the German presidency, the Constitution talks are already monopolizing the European debate. Yesterday, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on the French candidates to the presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal to avoid upsetting the EU Constitution process by using it as an issue in the country’s elections. Meanwhile, a secret letter sent by Mrs. Merkel to the Swedish government is creating a political uneasiness in Sweden. Although its content hasn’t been rendered public yet, there are serious suspicions that it contains information on how Stockholm could get around having a referendum on the Constitution. But this disputable practice initiated by Mrs. Merkel seems to gain other countries also as Danish politicians are sending messages showing that a referendum may not be necessary in Denmark.
Mrs. Merkel’s fear is real that the delicate compromise that underpinned the original Constitution could quickly fall apart. Among others, Czech president Vaclav Klaus argues that there is no crisis in the EU and no need for speedy solutions, adding “we feel something must be done – the Constitution Treaty in its present form is not usable, not acceptable”. France’s position will be known after the results of the presidential elections, but the proposals are already known: On one side Sarkozy’s mini-Treaty (without Part III) ratified by French Parliament. On the other side Royal proposes a Treaty with a more “social” bias and a new French referendum. However, any “social” supplement will not please Britain as it already disagrees on the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Part II) and its “right to strike”. Disagreement is also growing in the Netherlands where the idea of a common flag, anthem and motto will most likely be rejected.
The complexity of Merkel’s task is such that one might start to understand her stubbornness to appeal to “confidential consultations” or secret letters for reviving the Constitution. However, the nervousness surrounding the Constitution talks and the harshness opposing some Member States should be seen as a warning. The future of Europe starts here, and the European leaders would be well advised to implement today the principles they pretend to promote in tomorrow’s Constitution, namely democracy, transparency and accountability. Otherwise, how could they expect us, European citizens, to trust them?
Sources: EUobserver, Financial Times