28 MAY 2003

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Constitution draft hits on Europe’s soar points

-Sant, Vella react to first draft

By Kurt Sansone
Europe’s deep divisions caused by the conflict in Iraq are set to continue with the proposal that the block of 25 adopt a single common foreign and security policy and appoint a foreign minister. The proposal is included in the draft of the EU Constitution, published on Monday.
The Constitution confers upon the Union the competence to ‘define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.’
Touching on the soar point that saw the EU grapple for a solution to the Iraqi crisis, the Constitution says that the Member States ‘shall actively and unreservedly support the Union’s common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity’.
The Constitution also impedes Member States from taking ‘action contrary to the Union’s interests or likely to impair its effectiveness.’
The draft talks about the need for EU-wide investment and research into armaments and calls on the Member States to upgrade their military capabilities.
What could be described as a backward step for Malta, the Constitution proposes capping the number of seats in the European Parliament at 700, with a minimum threshold of four seats. Malta currently has five seats in the EP and if the Constitution is approved as is, Malta would most probably lose a seat given the fact that it is the smallest EU Member State.
The other issue at stake over which consensus is difficult to find is the Presidency. The Constitution proposes having an elected president for a two-and-a-half year term as opposed to the rotating presidency at present.
Reacting to the draft, Convention members Dr Alfred Sant and Dr George Vella said that the section concerning foreign policy allowed possibility of ‘structured co-operation’ by which willing partners could move ahead of other member states in their voluntary co-operation. The Malta Labour Party representatives remarked positively that the Constitution also talks of ‘constructive abstention’ by member states who opt to refrain from taking joint action with their fellow member states.
However, they cautioned that neutral countries could find difficulty in assimilating certain aspects of the common foreign policy because of the clause that says that Member States cannot take ‘action contrary to the Union’s interests’.
Sant and Vella argued that the phrasing of that particular clause could give rise to different interpretations as is in the case of a hypothetical trade embargo ordered by the EU against a third country with which a state that has utilised ‘constructive abstention’ has long standing commercial relations.
Pressure may be put on that member state to also apply the embargo, Sant and Vella said.
Sant and Vella described the creation of a foreign minister role as a ‘useful development’ even if they insisted on more clarification on the competencies and responsibilities the post will carry with it.
On the issue of representation in the EP, Sant and Vella said that the minimum threshold should be set at six rather than four and argued in favour of retaining the current rotating presidency.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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