EU Constitution gets new lease on life

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, photo: CTK

The EU Constitution which many considered to be dead has received a new lease on life. On the first day of their summit in Brussels, European leaders agreed to extend the ratification deadline beyond November 2006 in order to give member states more time for reflection and debate.

President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell,  the EU president Jean Claude Juncker and the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso,  photo: CTK
Despite the fact that the French and Dutch have rejected it and public opinion elsewhere is turning against it, European leaders are not ready to abandon the EU Constitution just yet. "Ratification must continue, for the simple reason that there would not be a better treaty than the existing draft" outgoing EU president Jean Claude Juncker told the media.

This precisely sums up the stand of the Czech government delegation which made a big effort to convince its EU partners to give the treaty more time. The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said it was important to consider why French and Dutch voters had rejected the Constitution and to address people's primary concerns:

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
"In my view we need to identify the problems which we now have in Europe and which are very important in the eyes of the public. Those are problems which came into existence during the process of ratification: unemployment, the free movement of persons, the free movement of services, immigration, euthanasia, gay marriages, etc. etc. there are some political problems which present a hurdle and the task of the EU leadership now is to give the public a clear message: how to solve the problems."

The Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who strongly supports European integration, was the first of the EU leaders to suggest a postponement of the ratification deadline. But, ironically he too will have a tough battle to fight over the Constitution on home ground, where both President Klaus and the leading opposition party, the Civic Democrats, have openly rejected it. Although many political analysts initially feared that Czech scepticism could rock the EU boat, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had nothing but praise for the EU newcomers.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso,  photo: CTK
"I have just met with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and I find that he has a great sense of responsibility. His statements are very clear and he is obviously concerned about the situation and he wants to find a solution. During my time as EC president I have not heard one contradictory signal from the government of the Czech Republic, on the contrary. What I ask member states - all of them - is that while they naturally have to defend their national interests they should do it in a way that it is not incompatible with the European common goal because if the prime ministers only play their national card then we cannot reach a consensus and we need consensus in Europe. Of course, it is more difficult now with 25 member states. But let me tell you one thing: the difficulties we are having right now do not come from the new member states. That I want to underline and this is very important. Because some people could say: now that there are 25 member states it will be more difficult. Yes, there are more of us and so it takes more time to decide. But let us be fair. The difficulties we are having now in the European Union do not come from the new member states and they are giving, generally speaking, a great contribution to our common project."