E.U. Decides to Offer Treaty in Place of Constitution

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 24, 2007

PARIS, June 23 -- A squabbling European Union has given up hope for a constitution, agreeing instead Saturday to peddle a watered-down treaty to its 27 capitals in hopes of ending a two-year stalemate that has hobbled one of the world's most potent economic and diplomatic blocs.

"We have avoided a crisis," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in an interview to be published Sunday in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "Uncertainty about our future treaty has cast a shadow of doubt over our ability to act. Now those doubts have been removed."

Even so, the details of the treaty must still be negotiated and the final document ratified by all 27 E.U. members to become effective. E.U. leaders set a goal of 2009 for winning approval of the treaty.

The lack of a constitution -- a proposed charter was defeated by French and Dutch voters two years ago -- has been a legal hurdle as well as a psychological impediment to E.U. efforts to move forward with a unified voice. The failure of the countries to agree on a basic unifying structure underscored public perception of the body as an unwieldy, bureaucratic entity run by leaders far removed from the European people.

"I don't think there is anything that can derail the process now," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after a deal was announced at 4:30 a.m. Saturday. "The most important thing here is that the constitutional treaty was put to one side. This deal gives us a chance to move on."

The late-night marathon meetings of the past two days in Brussels covered issues ranging from the weight of each country's voting rights within the bloc to what to call -- or not call -- its foreign minister.

"The constitutional treaty was an easily understandable treaty," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said about the discarded constitution. "This is a simplified treaty which is very complicated."

One example: The E.U. leaders agreed to have a foreign policy chief but decided not to call the person who fills the post a foreign minister.

The newly proposed treaty was nearly torpedoed when Poland complained it was not being given a fair share of voting rights, which are based on population. Polish President Lech Kaczynski argued that Poland deserved compensation for its suffering during World War II.

"History is history," Kaczynski said. "It is fact that had there not been the war, Poland would not have 38 million people but many more."

The remarks infuriated many European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made acceptance of a new treaty proposal the primary crusade of her rotating six-month E.U. presidency, which ends in July.

Kaczynski eventually retreated in return for compromises in the voting arrangements.

The document strips out some of the symbolism in the original treaty that had offended many countries, such as an E.U. anthem. It also eliminates some references to international trade rights that protectionist-oriented countries, such as France, had opposed.

The document will set out rules for the future enlargement of the European Union, another contentious issue, and will attempt to streamline the bloc's cumbersome governing bureaucracy.

"This shows that Europe came together at the end," Merkel said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company