[A-List] EU integration struggles: Prodi weighs in
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Dec 9 05:54:40 MST 2002
Prodi stirs up rebellion with radical reform plan
By Stephen Castle in Brussels
The Independent, 06 December 2002
An internal rebellion was sparked at the EU yesterday when Romano Prodi, the
European Commission's president, launched a draft constitution for Europe.
Pitching him in opposition to Tony Blair and some of his own commissioners,
Mr Prodi said EU nations who opposed constitutional reform should be ejected
from the union.
He also demanded an end to national vetoes in decision-making, a host of new
powers for the European Commission and a Commission president elected by
Mr Prodi's blueprint, drafted amid secrecy and codenamed Penelope, calls for
majority voting for foreign policy and taxation, a new "Foreign Secretary"
based in the European Commission, and for the EU to adopt a Nato-style
mutual defence guarantee for its member states. The draft treaty, which
would incorporate a charter of fundamental rights into law, specifically
rules out ideas for a new president of the EU drawn from the ranks of
current or past EU leaders - something that was championed by Mr Blair.
On the eve of Mr Prodi's launch, at a heated five-and-a half hour meeting,
Neil Kinnock, the Commission's vice-president, opposed plans to eject any
member state of the EU from full membership if they did not ratify the new
constitution. He argued that the options outlined might encourage
Eurosceptics to think they could opt out of responsibilities of EU
membership while retaining the economic advantages. Michel Barnier, the
French commissioner responsible for institutional change, also distanced
himself from the plan.
The office of the other British commissioner, Chris Patten, made clear he
did not feel bound by the content of the draft constitution because of a
lack of prior consultation. And Mario Montian, the Italian commissioner for
competition, also objected.
Because of the tide of opposition within his own commission, Mr Prodi was
forced to present the constitutional blueprint as a working document rather
than as a formal document. A second, watered-down paper was issued after
approval by the college of 20 commissioners.
Yesterday, British officials made little secret of their opposition to the
draft constitution, although it was more warmly received by officials from
Germany, the Benelux, and smaller nations. In an encouraging sign for Mr
Prodi, French officials were cautious but positive about several elements.
Outside the Commission, the reaction was mixed, as Mr Prodi presented his
plan to the Convention on the Future of Europe headed by the former French
president Valery Giscard d'Estaing. M. Giscard will draw up a constitutional
text that will have to be approved by the head of the 15 member governments.
Unveiling his plan yesterday, Mr Prodi said: "The first point is to abolish
the requirement for unanimity. That rule has marked the bleakest periods in
the union's recent history." He added: "If the veto has frequently brought
paralysis with 15 member states, think what could happen with 25 or more -
that is why I think majority voting should be the rule."
He poured cold water on proposals to create a president to oversee the work
of national government ministers. He said the post would create problems,
asking: "What would he do in the 360 days of the year when the European
Council is not meeting and George Bush is not calling?"
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