» Tuesday, March 23, 2004

European constitution

In answer to questions about the European Constitution, the PMOS said that the position remained as he had set out this morning and last week. The stumbling block at the European Council in Brussels last December had been the issue of vote weighting. The Irish Presidency had been discussing the issue with their European partners and would present an update at the European Council later this week. It was up to them to make the judgement as to whether they thought the IGC could be concluded in the first half of this year. We had no intention of pre-empting their decision. We were relaxed about this matter. We were not among the group of countries who had been central to the breakdown of the talks last December. EU member states were fully aware of our position on the Constitution and our red lines. We would continue to pay a constructive role in the whole issue. Questioned further, the PMOS said that although the centre of gravity had been with us at Brussels last December on the red lines issue and the IGC, we recognised that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. We would hold every bit as firm to our position in future negotiations as we had in the past. Everyone was crystal clear about that.

Asked if the Prime Minister wanted to see the issue resolved sooner rather than later, the PMOS repeated that the stumbling block was the issue of vote weighting. We would have to wait and see how things panned out, particularly in the light of the fact that there had been a change of Government in Spain, although the outgoing Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Marie Aznar, would be attending the European Council. Desire was one thing, but reality was another. We would have to wait and see how things developed. We would continue to engage constructively on this issue. As we had set out in the White Paper, we believed that enlargement was a good thing for the UK and Europe in terms of improving prosperity and security. Equally, we believed that changes were necessary if a Europe at twenty-five was going to work more efficiently. Similarly, we believed it would be useful to set out the competences clearly to enable people to understand what was decided at national level and what was decided at EU level.

Asked if we believed that a compromise was on the table, the PMOS said that the Irish Presidency had been discussing the issue with their European partners, for example lunch between the Taoiseach and President Chirac yesterday. He had heard what some people had been saying. Whether the Presidency believed that that could translate into something which might offer an opportunity to start the negotiation process again, he really couldn’t say.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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