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EUROPEAN CONVENTION: FINAL COMPROMISE ON CONSTITUTION LEAVES IGC LITTLE ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE.

Confirmation of the broad backing of EU Heads of State and Government for the draft Constitution secured by Valery Giscard d'Estaing at the Salonika European Council on June 20 (see European Report 2786 for further details) required Convention members not to tamper with the delicate balance secured in Part I (Constitutional architecture) - although certain key aspects are still challenged by several Member States including Spain and Poland - by making wholesale changes to the outline of Part III (Functioning of the EU and implementation of common policies) for the finalising of which Convention members were only mandated by the European Council to make so-called "technical" adjustments.

Immigration and access to the labour market.

Following the plenary session on July 4, the Praesidium presented a revised version to Convention members on July 9 in which one can but note that of the thirteen amendments tabled, several were manifestly more political than technical as acknowledged by the head of the European Parliament delegation and Praesidium member Inigo Mendez de Vigo. In order to satisfy the Germany, it is henceforth expressly stated that Article 163, which shifts immigration policy to qualified majority voting (QMV) "does not affect the right of Member States to set entry volumes for third-country nationals entering their territory from third countries to seek paid or unpaid employment". Regarding economic governance, a new Article 185 stipulates without formalising the Eurogroup, that the Euro-zone Member States can step up their co-ordination of economic and budgetary co-operation. An addition to Article 278 extends the competence of the Court of Justice to appeals by natural and legal persons against restrictive measures taken against them under the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The other amendments are essentially editorial or guarantee consultation of the European Parliament.

Cultural diversity.

Was it necessary to go further? Valery Giscard d'Estaing was convinced of this at least on one point: Article 212 on commercial policy should be reworded in order to reassure France as to the continued existence of the "cultural exception", i.e. protection for the French and European film industries in the face of Hollywood in the context of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations. Following the gesture towards Germany on access to labour markets for immigrants, this move finally ensured French support for the draft Constitution. Whereas he had initially failed to find a sufficient number of allies within the Praesidium to press this point, a window of opportunity opened up on July 9, several voices, notably Danish and Latvian Government representatives Henning Christophersen and Sandra Kalniete supporting their French counterpart Pascale Andreani's demand for the maintenance of QMV within the Council of Ministers on trade in audiovisual and cultural services.

As a result, Mr Giscard d'Estaing was able to re-launch the debate at the Praesidium meeting on the evening of July 9, supported by Vice-Presidents Jean-Luc Dehaene and Giuliano Amato. An amendment to Article 212 protecting the interests of Greece and Denmark in trade in maritime services, Mr Christophersen pressed for a modification of the paragraph on trade in audiovisual and cultural services. Meanwhile, the addition of the word linguistic after "cultural diversity" finally convinced the Slovenian representative on the Praesidum, Alojz Peterle. Forcing the neutrality of the British Parliament's representative Gisella Stuart, but buoyed by the active - an unexpected - support of Irish Parliament representative John Bruton, Mr Giscard d'Estaing still had a fight on his hands to convince Commissioner Michel Barnier and above all the Spanish representative Alfonso Dastis for the Praesidium to endorse the following formula: "The Council also rules unanimously on the negotiation and conclusion of agreements on trade in cultural and audiovisual services where these risk damaging the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Union". A first analysis by legal experts suggest this formula will not prevent general use of QMV in the area of audiovisual services, but will maintain something akin to a right of veto where a Member State feels that the measure envisaged might affect its internal organisation regarding he funding, distribution and dissemination of audiovisual and cultural products.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Catering for the needs of France and Germany without sparking off a fresh conflict with the United Kingdom, whose genuine support for the draft Treaty will be put sorely to the test during the IGC: this was the final challenge in the complicated game Valery Giscard d'Estaing has been playing during his final days at the helm of the Convention. During the morning of July 9, he was stunned to come face to face with a revolt from MPs and MEPs who have all signed a petition, seconding this joint declaration with threatening words. "I will not take part in the official signing if our points are not given serious attention, according to the Austrian MP Caspar Einem. As it stands, I will not be signing the transmittal document", added the British MEP, Andrew Duff, the ELDR group co-ordinator.

The issue for Mr Giscard d'Estaing was that one of the seven points was of key importance for the challengers: achieving QMV for any CFSP initiative jointly presented by the Foreign Minister and the Commission, even though Article 196 specifies QMV for the Minister's initiatives alone and further, if these result from a unanimous Council common position. Although somewhat modest (as the Foreign Minister is the Commission Vice-President and is chairing External Relations Councils, it is unlikely that the official's joint initiatives with his Commission colleagues will create any serious political problems) the demand was like a red rag to the United Kingdom, which wants to see the first symbolic step towards investing the CFSP with an EU dimension.

Nor could Mr Giscard d'Estaing and the Praesidium ignore the attitude of the very many Convention members who want to see a sign in favour of a more integrated common foreign policy. Their demand was met in a related field: the "European External Action Service" (in effect an EU Foreign Ministry) which at this stage is nothing more than a declaration annexed to the Constitutional Treaty, which is due to be launched 12 months after the Constitution swings into action. This joint diplomatic service (supervised by the Foreign Minster and comprising the European institutions' delegations in non-EU countries - mainly originating with the Commission - and diplomats seconded from the Member States) would be accountable (in the initial version) only to the Council. In the end, in the evening of July 9, the Praesidium said the set-up procedures would be jointly defined by the Council and the Commission, without prejudice to the European Parliament's rights.

EU symbols.

Another token was given to those keen to give some tangible sense to European citizenship: a new article dubbed "the symbols of the Union" carries considerable symbolic weight. Added to Title IV on general and final provisions, but which the Convention is recommending that the IGC include in Part I, this article takes up the blue flag with twelve gold stars, the hymn drawn from the "Ode to Joy" in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and adds a number of novel elements: it states that "the currency of the Union is the Euro", and that its currency is "united in diversity" - a reference contained in the preamble and which Mr Giscard d'Estaing had already considered a good motto at the Salonika European Council - and finally that "May 9 is celebrated throughout the Union as Europe Day", in commemoration of the Declaration on May 9 1950 by Robert Schumann, one of the founding fathers of European integration.

Among the other amendments, the Parliament will be required to give assent and will no longer merely be consulted on measures taken under Article 5 Title II of Part III on non-discrimination, which nevertheless remain subject to Council unanimity.

Another last-minute modification is the removal of the first article of the Protocol amending the Euratom Treaty, which basically boils down to maintaining Euratom's distinct legal personality rather than combining it with that of the EU (see separate article in this section).

Giscard satisfied but vigilant.

These modifications were enough to convince Convention members on July 10 to sign the transmission document on the Constitutional Treaty, Eurosceptics adding the term "minority report" to their names, in reference to an ultra-minority alternative text. Lamberto Dini, President of the national parliaments' delegation, commented that "Convention members, and in particular those representing Governments, have a moral responsibility to ensure the durability of our work within the IGC". Taking a more cautious line, Irish Government representative Dick Roche commented that "the IGC must not focus solely on our work but on means of improving it without unpicking it". Spain's Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio hoped the Convention acquis "will be preserved throughout the IGC".

In conclusion, Valery Giscard d'Estaing produced some salad leaves to feign feeding the Chinese statue of a turtle with a dragon's head that he has placed at his side at each session since July 2002, when many questions were being raised over the slow pace of work. He explained at the time that it was a symbol of "longevity and wisdom" and that this strange animal "will seize the Constitution in its claws when the time comes". Mission accomplished for the Convention President who remains at the disposal of the Italian Presidency to defend the project before the IGC. Whilst he is satisfied with the result, Mr Giscard d'Estaing nevertheless remains vigilant: "wising to change this Constitution, wishing to alter our balances, means running the risk of deforming or even dislocating our work", the Convention President warned.
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jul 12, 2003
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