Monday, May 17, 2004

It’s "Plan B" – go Dutch

While Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen is insisting that talks on the EU constitution are "making some good progress", another clear indication that they are in trouble comes from Finland's foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja. He told the Finnish Press Agency that one month ago he was 80 percent certain that a deal could be sealed. Now he says it could go either way.

He is not on his own, with Polish foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz also sharing the pessimism. He was "less optimistic" that the deal could be struck by 18 June. He has reaffirmed that Poland has problems with proposed new voting rules, while Austria and Latvia have complained about a plan to reduce the size of the commission.

God is still causing difficulties as well. Italy and Poland, as well as Malta, are fronting Vatican demands that Christianity and God get prominent title credits in the constitution. Spain just wants to add to the tower of babel by having its regional languages of Catalan, Basque and Galician recognised as official EU languages.

Meanwhile, Straw seems to have been mixing it with Germany and France, over the Charter of Fundamental Rights. He has raised "powerful arguments" that its application should be limited. Germany’s Joschka Fischer and his French counterpart Michel Barnier, however, are refusing to back British demands for guarantees to that effect.

According to the Associated Press, Straw also "opposed majority voting in EU foreign policy and taxation matters, arguing Britons would reject that in referendum on the constitution Prime Minister Tony Blair scheduled last month". Said Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel, "We are not making headway on this". A rather sour Barnier said, "I want to remain optimistic... but everyone has to make an effort".

Cowen nevertheless remains optimistic, stating that "The commitment to finalise these arrangements is a very important strong and unanimous commitment…", adding, "I am more encouraged this evening in fact than... discouraged... Based on progress so far I think we will get there."

But, in what is seen as an ominous sign, the Dutch, who take over the presidency from the Irish on 1 July, have informed the meeting that they have a backup plan if members fail to agree on the constitution by June.

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