Monday, May 31, 2004

Constitution agreement continues to look fragile

Without much drama or great publicity, Poland seems to have upped the ante on the constitution negotiations, demanding an 80-20 population split on the contentious "double majority" voting. This means that countries with twenty percent of the population of the EU could block legislation, instead of the 45 percent proposed by the Irish presidency.

This was stated yesterday by caretaker president Marek Belka, in an interview given to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. This is way beyond what is acceptable to the presidency and is bound to be resisted by Germany – among others – which has consistency refused to accept any extension of the 55-45 split proposed by Ireland.

Of the other contentious issues, the European Movement of Malta yesterday issued a statement that it “stands four-square behind our Government and all those who want a reference to Christianity included in the new European Constitution”. Europe had nothing to be ashamed of by acknowledging the enormous contribution made by Christianity to the development of its civilisation, it declared.

Positions on these two crucial issues, therefore, seem to be hardening – although it is impossible to discount such statements as pre-negotiation posturing.

However, in what seems a downbeat message, Ahern is now saying that there is only a 50:50 chance of a deal during the summit on 17/18 June. This was in response to a question asked by Irish RTE state radio, when he said that there were "large issues" still to be agreed. He is planning to hold consultations with leaders in seven other EU countries over the next week.

Ahern added that getting 25 countries to agree on matters that were "fairly fundamental" to them was difficult. "Every country has a problem with something," he said. "I think I know where everybody is at but to get everybody in the one place at the one time is difficult. It will take, I can tell you, more energies than I feel I have even to do it but I will keep trying."

Reinforcing his downbeat message, Ahern said he expected the negotiations to go down to the wire. "In the end of the day, the only ones that will make decisions are prime ministers and they will only make it when they are up against the clock."

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