» Tuesday, March 23, 2004

European constitution

Asked if the Prime Minister was confident of a breakthrough on the European Constitution at the European Council in Brussels later this week, the PMOS said that the position had not changed from yesterday and last week. The stumbling block at last December’s European Council had been the issue of vote-weighting. The countries central to that had been France, Germany, Spain and Poland. The UK had not been one of them. The Irish Presidency had been having talks with its European partners, including lunch yesterday with President Chirac, to discuss how progress could be made. The Presidency was expected to present a report to the Council at the end of this week in terms of whether they considered it was worth pursuing a conclusion to the IGC during the first half of this year. We had always said that we were very relaxed about this issue. The British Government’s position on the Constitution was well known. As the Prime Minister had said last December regarding our red lines, the centre of gravity had been with us in relation to the views of other countries at that Summit. Equally, as he had acknowledged at the time, nothing was agreed until everything was agreed – as, indeed, events in Brussels last December had shown.

Asked if the Prime Minister hoped that a deal on the Constitution might be brokered by June, the PMOS repeated that the British Government was relaxed about the issue. Wishing for one thing was neither here nor there if the political reality in Europe meant that a deal was not possible. People would have to exercise a little patience and see how things panned out. The issue of vote-weighting was extremely complex. Moreover, there had been a change of Government in Spain. We would have to see if, and how, that might impact on the situation. We would continue to approach these discussions constructively. As we had stated consistently, we believed there was merit in setting out where the competences rested for the EU as a whole and for its member states. Equally, it was important for changes to be made so that Europe could function more effectively at twenty five.

Asked how committed the Prime Minister was to the whole idea of a European Constitution, the PMOS said that our position was set out in the White Paper. We were for enlargement. However, it was clearly important for the EU to function effectively at twenty five. Changes to its mechanisms were therefore necessary to prevent deadlock.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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