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EU: Draft Constitution Overshadowed By Deadlock Over Institutions

Tensions are high as a draft text of a constitution for the European Union -- publicized this week -- did not include any amendments submitted by members to the all-important clauses on the future institutional makeup of the EU.

Brussels, 30 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Convention on the Future of Europe -- the group that is drafting a future constitution for the European Union -- resumed its work today in Brussels.

Tensions are high as many of the most contentious issues -- concerning the future institutions of the European Union -- have not yet been resolved. A first draft of the constitution was made public earlier this week, but it did not include any of the hundreds of amendments that have so far been proposed on the future makeup of the EU's institutions.

A note accompanying the draft said that incorporating the amendments was difficult because there were so many and they often contradicted each other.

This, however, glosses over the fact that many members of the convention reject the key ideas of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who is chairing the convention. These include replacing the present rotation of member-state presidencies with a full-time EU president and having fewer european commissioners than member states.

Giscard today tried to focus attention on other chapters which have been amended. "I can assure you very frankly, in the presence of the two vice presidents, that the presidium, working to modify its initial [draft] proposal, has very attentively listened to your comments. We have tried to take account the comments, weighed the pros and cons, and we have tried to improve the overall balance."

Giscard went on to say that the convention -- which he admitted is split on some institutional issues -- would meet tomorrow and produce an amended version of the "Institutions" chapter.

Giscard's comments did little to calm frayed nerves. Although today's debate was not intended to deal with institutions, Elmar Brok, the chairman of the largest political grouping in the convention, the conservatives, took to the floor to vent his anger. He said some larger member states -- whose interests Giscard is accused of protecting -- are effectively vetoing the views of the majority of convention delegates.

"Since the convention does not require unanimity, since all members of the convention are on an equal footing, whether they represent big or small countries, national parliaments or the European Parliament, we must keep in mind that the opinion of one delegate, just because he or she comes from a big country, does not outweigh those of a majority of the convention members," Brok said.

Brok also noted that the convention was called to take the drafting of the constitution out of the hands of the member states with their vetoes and tendency toward backroom deals. Yet, he said, the convention now appears to be reverting to these very same patterns of behavior.

Asking why none of the hundreds of suggested amendments made it to the final text of the draft, Brok said he was forced to conclude that "it doesn't make much difference what we do or don't do here."

The draft does offer one ray of hope for prospective malcontents. Giscard said today it had been decided to retain a "withdrawal clause," allowing a member state to leave the EU if it so wishes. After all, Giscard said, the EU is "not a prison."