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EU Constitution Could Make or Break German EU Presidency

Constitution gets the most attention

By Sean Sinico, Deutsche Welle

16.01.2007 · dw-world.de

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to announce Germany's goals for its six-month EU presidency Wednesday in Strasbourg, but experts says it will be her plans for the EU Constitution that get the most attention.

Germany has set numerous goals in its 25-page program for the EU presidency that include everything from securing Europe's energy supplies to outlawing Holocaust denial across the EU to improving Europeans' image of the bloc and getting serious about climate change.

It's an ambitious agenda and it will be discussed extensively in roughly 4,000 EU internal meetings and 40 additional conferences with non-EU countries over the next six months before Germany passes the presidential baton to Portugal in June. While many topics will eventually get an EU airing, not all issues are created equal.

"Every EU presidency presents a comprehensive program, but only a small amount of the content is actually new or actually written by the respective government," said Roman Maruhn of Munich's Center for Applied Policy Research, explaining why the official program lists such a range of topics.

But there's one issue that is on everyone's mind and which will likely get the much of the attention over the next six months -- the moribund EU Constitution. Germany's progress on finding a compromise regarding the rejected EU Constitution will be a major benchmark used to judge Berlin's success, he added.

The C word

Vetoed by French and Dutch voters in 2005, the constitutional treaty had been put on ice for a yearlong "period of reflection" and the controversial issue has begun to reappear on the European agenda as Germany takes the EU's reigns.

"Expectations toward the German presidency, and Angela Merkel in particular, are incredibly high," said Katinka Barysch of the Center for European Reform. "She seems to be very good at listening to people and bringing everybody on board, but whether she is really good at forging consensus -- that remains to be seen."

Hammering out a constitutional deal will be particularly difficult for Germany as it is among the treaty's strongest supporters and is likely to be viewed as a biased mediator. French elections, scheduled to be held shortly before the German presidency comes to a close, will also complicate negotiations, Barysch added.

A natural mediator

Merkel, who surprised many at her first European summit as German chancellor by brokering a deal on the bloc's budget, could make some headway on deciding which parts of the constitution EU members are in favor of saving, according to the German Marshall Fund's Ulrike Guerot.

"Things can go quickly if they are well orchestrated, and I think the ambition of the German presidency to get a clear roadmap for the constitution is a realistic goal," Guerot said.

Germany's geopolitical location in the middle of Europe predestines the country for a role as a leader and mediator, especially since it has added European integration to its national interests since the reunification of East and West Germany, Maruhn said.

Germany isn't alone on European stage

But when it comes to forging compromises on a European level, countries that have expressed skepticism about the treaty, including The Netherlands, France, the UK and Poland, also have to be willing to negotiate for any progress to be made, according to Guerot.

"It's not just about what Germany wants to achieve," she added. "Germany is a key player and a big country so there are big chances to bring things together, but one should not expect Germany will fix everything."

But even if Germany proves unable to bridge both sides of the constitutional debate, there is a chance for Berlin to book a successful presidency by concentrating on endearing the EU to its citizens by reminding them of the peace the EU brought to a war-torn continent, Barysch said.

"What the Germans could achieve is a turnaround in the atmospherics in the EU," she said. "Away from talk about crisis and about the EU being unpopular and unloved and just showing that the EU is still a great club and has achieved so much."

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