Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Giscard is showing his hand - 12th March 2003, 22.35

The Convention remains the centre of debate on the European Constitution. However, Giscard D'Estaing, in his role as president, has short-circuited debate on institutional issues and has demonstrated support for a permanent president of the European Council. In various guises (the single or dual models), this has been supported by the larger countries, Sweden and Denmark.

Kirsty Hughes of the Centre for European Studies has monitored these developments. The meetings between the leaders of the larger countries have been a source of intergovernmental action designed to bypass the Convention and present it with a fait accompli as far as the new institutional arrangements are concerned.

This is also a pre-emption of the Convention. Having established the Convention to debate these issues and find solutions, some governments are now trying to obtain an intergovernmental agreement outside the Convention - which government representatives would then bring within the Convention. Not so much the IGC happening within the Convention but the IGC happening in parallel on the outside.

It is unsurprising to learn that some governments are trying to 'fix' the Convention and ensure that their proposals are the ones adopted at that all important intergovernmental conference. However, the majority of the delegates prefer a rotating presidency or one "single executive presidency for Commission and Council". It is doubtful that such a large area of contention will not prove controversial especially as D'Estaing's impartiality is now in doubt.

Moreover, the Iraqi crisis has proved damaging to the ongoing talks within the European Union and relationships amongst its leadership. I, for one, have been sceptical of those, like Perry de Havilland, who view the current crisis as the beginning of the end for the EU. Such speculations are built out of hope and an expectation that such an illiberal structure cannot last. Nevertheless, one of the immediate consequences has been a scaling down of expectations concerning the common foreign and security policy. Iraq, if it has done nothing else, has postponed any removal of the veto in this area. Another fortunate development is the likelihood that the negotiations on the Constitution may now be delayed because the rift over Iraq may have damaged this endeavour.

Now, however, even Italian diplomats and convention officials acknowledge that the need for tempers to cool after the EU's rift on Iraq means that negotiations are unlikely to begin before October or November. Under such a scenario, it would be impossible to hold a treaty conference this year.ther national officials argue that EU governments' suspicions have heightened, both of one another and of the convention's ruling 13- member praesidium, increasing the probability that extended negotiations could unpick the text presented by Mr Giscard d'Estaing. The 10 countries scheduled to join the EU in May 2004 would also prefer the agreement to be deferred until after they become members, not least since many of them were criticised by France's President Jacques Chirac for their pro-US stance on Iraq.

It is too early to assess what the consequences of the Iraqi rift will have on European integration and there are certainly indications that the process may have been ringfenced from this crisis. On the other hand, there are more reports of delays, though the flood of amendments that the Convention received suggests that interested parties have woken up to the importance of this enterprise and that the workload itself is proving too great for the set timetable. These delays may be blamed on the Iraqi crisis as a suitable scapegoat.


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