EU split on birthday declaration
The German Presidency is seeking a consensus for Berlin Declaration, which will mark the Union's 50th anniversary on 25 March 2007. But views differ on what it should include. The so-called Berlin Declaration will mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957.
The German Presidency aims to keep the text vague and simple and at the same time send out what they call “a positive message of unity”. According to German officials, the text "will not be cast in Brussels jargon, but something that can be easily read by everyone".
Even though discussions about the content of the declaration are ongoing, German officials said on 6 March: "There is not a text of the Berlin Declaration yet." The Presidency will draft it after the Spring Summit on 8-9 March 2007, in order to keep it out of the debate until after the meeting, officials indicated.
However, a report on the Constitution will be informally presented by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a dinner during the Spring Summit on 8 March 2007. But German officials made it clear that they "will certainly not try to solve constitutional issue at the Summit". So far, the Germans are keeping everyone guessing on whom will draft the Berlin Declaration. According to sources, the text will not be written by "an average EU official". The Presidency claims that this is its "best-kept secret".
The declaration is set to contain four elements. It will first evoke the EU's “historic” achievements, such as the common market, the euro and the Schengen area of passport-free travel. However, this part already proves problematic, as not all EU member states participate in the common currency and new member states still do not enjoy the complete benefits of free movement within the EU.
A second issue addressed will be “European common values”. But this seems problematic too, as some, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, would favour the inclusion of a reference to God or Christian values. However, her Social Democrat coalition partner, as well as some countries, such as France that have a strong secular tradition, oppose such a reference.
The declaration will also look forward to the EU's future challenges, including globalisation, energy safety and climate change.
The last part intends to demonstrate the political will to “go forward”. Originally, this element should have included a reference to the Constitution. However, since this issue is highly sensitive for some member states, such as Poland and the UK, it was dropped and instead is likely to only refer to "a treaty" or more generally "institutional reform".
In France, where the Constitution was rejected in a referendum in 2005, the Constitutional debate is very sensitive. This makes it even more difficult to discuss the issue before presidential elections take place in April and May 2007.
In the end,however, all these elements are likely to disappear or become vague. As the German Presidency suggests, the declaration will boil down to the "lowest common denominator".
Commission President José Manuel Barroso wants the Berlin Declaration to underline that energy security and climate change "must be a defining mission for the EU for the future". He added: "The Berlin declaration must be a meaningful stepping-stone towards institutional settlement."
The Federalist Intergroup in the European Parliament would like to see a mention of the Constitution in the Berlin Declaration and considers that "the EU needs to complete its Constitutional process in order to be fully equipped to meet the demands of the 21st Century and the aspirations of a large majority of the citizens".
The European Environmental Bureau states: "Sustainable development, democracy and global solidarity should be key features of the declaration."
A group of secular NGOs strongly opposes a reference to religion in the Berlin declaration. Instead they would like to see reference to tolerance and support of "democracy, human rights and the rule of law".
Latest & next steps:
• German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the declaration on the future of Europe with her counterparts at a dinner during the Spring Summit on 8 March 2007.
• The Berlin Declaration to mark the EU's 50th anniversary will be signed on 25 March 2007.
• The German Presidency intends to present a road map for a new Constitutional Treaty at the June Summit.