EU constitution deadline extended

European leaders, desperate to keep alive their dream of an EU constitution after a devastating revolt by French and Dutch voters, have agreed to extend the ratification deadline. 

Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker reported the extension
Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker reported the extension

The final date was pushed beyond November 2006, said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating European Union presidency, after a working dinner at a two-day crisis summit. 

No new deadline was decided. The leaders decided they would need more time to persuade voters in other EU countries of the charter’s merits, reported Aljazeera correspondent Ahmed Kamil.

But even as the leaders struggled to salvage the constitution wreckage, the process appeared to be unravelling, with Denmark and Czech Republic announcing they will put off votes and even Luxembourg wavering.  

Voting postponed 

“It is postponed,” said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh
Rasmussen. “The basis for a referendum is not sufficiently clear. There is no date for a new referendum.”   

An Irish government source said Ireland would cancel one due in the autumn. Sweden and the Czech Republic said they would delay ratification until the future of the treaty was clear.    

EU leaders are meeting for a two-day session in Brussels

EU leaders are meeting for a
two-day session in Brussels

For Luxembourg, Juncker said it was up to his country’s parliament to decide if a vote should go ahead as scheduled on 10 July. He had promised to resign if Luxembourg voters rejected the constitution.  

Ten countries have ratified the constitution, but fundamental
questions remain over its fate because the text must be adopted by every EU member to become legally effective.   

“We believe that the constitutional treaty has the answers to
many questions that Europeans are asking, so we believe the
ratification process must continue,” said Juncker. 

The charter would not be renegotiated, he said. But “in the all the countries, all those who have ratified, and those who are still to ratify there should be a period of reflection”, the Luxembourg leader said.

“The date of 1 November 2006 initially foreseen for ratification is no longer tenable,” Juncker said. Countries that were planning referendums would need more time to convince their publics, he added. 

Period of reflection  

Europe would now enter a period of reflection, explanation
and debate on citizens’ expectations, and leaders would review the way forward probably in mid-2006, Juncker said.  

“The date of 1 November 2006 initially foreseen for ratification is no longer tenable”

Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg prime minister

The summit was widely seen as a test of whether the enlarged union could overcome the shock of the double referendum defeats, or whether political rivalries among its weakened leaders would leave it in limbo.   

Some countries had sought a formal pause in ratification,
but France, Germany and Belgium argued the process should go on.    

The delay means the EU will limp on under the convoluted
Nice Treaty, widely seen as a recipe for paralysis, rather than
adopting institutional reforms envisaged in the constitution. 
French President Jacques Chirac told the summit the charter
was not dead despite its rejection in his own country and
called for an emergency summit “to bridge the gulf that threatens to open between Europe and its peoples”. 

He raised doubt over the EU’s ability to continue expanding
after the accession of 10 mostly former communist eastern European states last year without a constitution, but Juncker said the leaders agreed the bloc would stick to existing commitments.    

Romania and Bulgaria are set to join next, while Croatia and
Turkey are due to open membership negotiations later this year.  

British view  

While no leader was willing to call the constitution dead,
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “The prospects of
reviving it get less and less the longer the period of time.”    

Britain was first to suspend its referendum plans last week.    

Its Eurosceptical Conservative opposition leader, Michael
Howard, said: “The constitution is dead and it should not be
pushed into a refrigerator – it should be put in a morgue.”    

In the build-up to Friday’s showdown over the 2007-2013
budget, Britain came under intense pressure to surrender some of its cherished rebate from Brussels coffers to enable a deal. 

Marathon session

The battle on the budget will be waged at a marathon session on Friday, which may spill into Saturday.
As in any family, fights about money are often the toughest, especially when there are suddenly more mouths to feed, as is the case in one that expanded from 15 to 25 countries last year.  

Britain and France are at the heart of the EU dispute

Britain and France are at the
heart of the EU dispute

Schroeder, fighting to cap spending to which Germany contributes most, said there was no excuse for London’s annual refund, worth 5.1 billion euros ($6.15 billion) this year.

“There is absolutely no real justification for this rebate in view of the fact that Britain ranks sixth in terms of wealth per capita but way down in terms of (EU) payments per capita.” 
Luxembourg’s concession

Luxembourg offered an 11th-hour concession to Britain in a bid to clinch a budget accord that would put the union back on track after the stunning double referendum defeat. 
But Straw rejected the offer of freezing the rebate for the next seven years at its pre-enlargement level of 4.6 billion euros, linked to a promise of a future review of farm spending.
“The rebate is fully justified and, if necessary, we will use the veto,” he said.  
At the row’s heart is a long dispute between France, which gains most from generous EU payments to farmers, and Britain, which won a budget rebate in 1984 since it received less than others in subsidies as far fewer Britons worked on the land.
Britain isolated

Britain is isolated, with all 24 other members arguing it is incomparably wealthier than in 1984 and must share the costs to the EU of taking in 10 mainly poor former communist states in 2004.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw favours keeping the EU rebate 

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw 
favours keeping the EU rebate 

One senior EU diplomat said Blair might prefer to wait for conservative German opposition chief Angela Merkel, tipped to win elections expected in September. She has said Schroeder was wrong to attack the British rebate but not French subsidies.
“The fact is we do not need a deal at this stage. Things can continue,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, ordered by his parliament to secure a cut in the country’s EU contribution which is the highest per capita, said Luxembourg’s latest offer of partial relief for the Dutch was not good enough.
Other pressing issues such as the bloc’s further enlargement to the Balkans and Turkey have been kept off the agenda. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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