Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Stalling for Time

Reports from the IGC confirmed that the countries were unwilling to extend qualified majority voting or hand the power of confirming the EU budget to the European Parliament.

The European Presidency, bestowed on Italy, has proposed a clumsy solution to the objections of the smaller countries over the removal of presiding rotation.

All member states accept that the current six-month rotation must go. It will be replaced with a system where each of the "sectoral" ministerial councils -- dealing with agriculture, transport or environment, for example -- gets its own rotating "team presidency." Most popular options are said to range from three-five countries per team, running the given council for 18-24 months.

Frattini said last night "practically everyone" had agreed with the general principle. "Now, there is a fairly general consensus on the rotation issue. Many feel that the principles should be enshrined in the [constitutional] treaty. And that these principles must be very firmly held. There should be equal access, parity of access to the presidency, there should be equal rotation, which should be basically equal rotation among all member states, big and small, old, and new. There should also be some consideration of the geographical balance in each team presidency, and it should be a system which would make the whole procedure functional," Frattini said.

This confusing and bureaucratic structure is indicative of the compromises that will be necessary if the IGC wishes to draft a revised constitution. They are aiming for an ambitious timetable in which this will be completed:

But gradually, national positions have emerged and the Italian presidency is now proposing to release an overall, comprehensive draft text of the constitution by late November. Foreign ministers will then meet 27-28 November in the Italian city of Naples, where most of the text -- in theory, at least -- should be approved. On 12-13 December, an EU summit is to put the finishing touches on the final document.

The other outstanding issues (extension of qualified majority voting, foreign and security policy and Spanish/Polish opposition to the demographic component of QMV) remain unresolved.

If anyone wants to pick up a free copy of the draft constitution, there's one in this month's issue of Prospect.

(28th October 2003, 22.43)


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