German idea for new EU constitution gets mixed response

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2012 1:29 PM
German idea for new EU constitution gets mixed response

By Sebastian Moffett

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A German suggestion to debate once more the creation of an EU constitution won mixed responses on Saturday, with France's foreign minister welcoming the idea but only nine countries planning to attend a seminar in Berlin.

Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said on Friday the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, drafted after Dutch and French voters rejected a proposed constitution in 2005, was not enough to keep European decision-making structures effective.

In particular, Germany wants to strengthen the bloc's ability to fight off financial troubles and counterbalance the rising influence of emerging economies.

"I think it's time to reflect on, if not a new constitution, than on an improvement in the procedures of functioning of the euro zone, a better governance of the euro zone," France's foreign minister Alain Juppe told a news conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Copenhagen.

"I am convinced that once we have got out of this crisis - because we are going to get out of it - we will have to go further in European integration," he said.

The seminar is scheduled for March 20 in Berlin, according to one EU diplomat, and hopes to attract the foreign ministers of nine countries: Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Denmark. Juppe said he would attend if he could fit it into his schedule.

However, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said the EU had already been through enough constitutional discussions, and that common policies were a more effective way to unite the bloc.

"I don't think the priority in the European Union at the moment is to start a new constitutional debate," he told reporters.

"We have had roughly 10 years of treaty discussions and I would be happy to concentrate more on policy issues than on treaty provisions. The alternative is to get more united. To try to initiate a new treaty discussion I think risks going in the opposite direction," he said.

Driven by public frustration over financial bailouts for debt-stricken states, Germany has fought hard over the last year to amend the EU's Lisbon Treaty, a watered-down version of the 2005 constitution proposal. Germany argues that change is needed to enshrine tougher fiscal discipline and safeguard the bloc from further financial troubles.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had said in November that his country wanted to see changes to the Lisbon Treaty by the end of 2012 in order to lay the foundation for a common fiscal policy in the bloc. Britain vetoed the plan in December in a row over safeguards for its financial sector.

(Reporting By Sebastian Moffett; editing by Andrew Roche)