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EU: Summit Says Constitution Must Be Ratified, But Offers No Way Forward

EU leaders at the summit on 16 June EU leaders yesterday avoided a definitive stance on the future of the embattled EU constitution in the wake of May’s referendum defeats in France and the Netherlands. The EU’s Luxembourg presidency said ratification must continue, but also said every member state is free to decide at what pace it will proceed. With France and the Netherlands unlikely to attempt ratification again anytime soon, the final deadline was put back until mid-2007. Leaders also agreed it is time to re-examine the speed and extent of the enlargement process.

Brussels, 17 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In the end, EU leaders were evasive in summing up last night's summit debate on the future of the constitution.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of the current EU chair Luxembourg, said time was needed for reflection in the wake of the French and Dutch referendums, but he insisted that ratification must continue.

“All of us [EU leaders] think that the constitutional treaty provides a good answer to many of the questions that face Europeans. And therefore we think that the process of ratification must continue," Juncker said. "There will not be a better treaty.”

Josep Borrell, the president of the European Parliament, who was asked to attend last night’s debate, emphatically insisted that no EU member state wanted to give up the constitution.

"No single -- not a single -- member state called for a definitive end to the process of ratification," Borrell said.

However, neither Juncker, Borrell, nor any EU leader had any pointers to give to those member states seeking more detailed guidance. Instead, Juncker proceeded to list numerous qualifications that will for the foreseeable future affect the ratification process -- provided it does continue.
"We note that after the 'non' of France and the 'nee' of the Netherlands, the date of 1 November 2006 initially foreseen for ratification is no longer tenable."

A number of member states have already followed Britain and postponed their ratification moves. Juncker said last night that every member state would “decide autonomously as a sovereign state” how to proceed with ratification.

He admitted that, as a result of the French and Dutch “no” votes, ratification would now inevitably take longer than initially foreseen.

"We note that after the 'non' of France and the 'nee' of the Netherlands, the date of 1 November 2006 initially foreseen for ratification is no longer tenable, as those [states] that have not ratified [the constitution] are not in a position to provide the necessary answer before mid-2007,” Juncker said.

To bring people around to support the constitution in countries that have yet to ratify the document, Juncker sketched out what he called “Plan D." The plan involves, in Juncker’s words, “democracy, debate, and dialogue” involving civil society in member states and their national parliaments.

Juncker noted that those member states that have chosen to have referenda might now need more time to convince their increasingly skeptical publics. He hinted that Luxembourg itself might postpone its referendum, scheduled to take place on 10 July.

The prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, emerged from the first night of the summit saying he would delay plans to hold a referendum in September. The Czech Republic and Ireland are considering similar moves. Finland might also postpone a referendum.

Diplomats said the French president, Jacques Chirac, had not explained when or how his country would attempt ratification again. It is widely assumed this won’t happen before the presidential election in May or June 2007.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister of the Netherlands, on the other hand, was quoted as definitively ruling out another attempt during his term in office.

The fallout from the ratification debacle is having an increasingly visible impact on attitudes toward enlargement within the EU. EU leaders yesterday admitted growing concerns. Juncker said a number of EU leaders had said the EU needs to “think about the rhythm and extent of enlargement.” But, Juncker said, “there is no conclusion on this point for the moment."

When pressed further, Juncker said Bulgaria and Romania can count on accession: "The treaties have been signed, they will be respected in full."

He also appeared to offer encouragement to Turkey -- awaiting the start of membership talks in October -- and the Balkan countries, which have all been promised membership. Juncker said that “most of [his] colleagues” believe that these commitments have to be respected.

However, diplomats indicate the prospects of the Balkan countries in particular could already be severely damaged.

The summit was expected to end today without the customary meeting with heads of the candidate countries. Although the prime ministers of Turkey and Croatia were initially invited to meet EU leaders this afternoon, the meeting was subsequently called off.

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