Berlin backs steering body for convention

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Series Details Vol 7, No.10, 8.3.01, p9
Publication Date 08/03/2001
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Date: 08/03/01

By Simon Taylor

SUPPORT is growing among member states for a group of political heavyweights to oversee the work of the planned convention that will draw up the next European Union treaty.

Germany is leading calls for a steering group to guide the work of the body, which could launch as early as next year. "We will need room for governments to negotiate so that governments will be the driving force on the new treaty," said one German official. "This could be done with a steering board."

Hoping to boost the Union's democratic credibility, most EU governments support the idea of a convention to decide priorities for the next treaty, due to be agreed in 2004. But they are concerned that the body, which would include representatives from existing and future member states, national parliamentarians and MEPs, will be too unwieldy to be effective.

EU leaders are set to agree on the format for preparing for the next treaty negotiations at the Laeken summit under the Belgian presidency in December.

Many countries have praised the role of a convention in preparing the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was agreed at Nice, but some observers warn that the same model cannot be applied to the next treaty.

Institutional reform Comm-issioner Michel Barnier recently highlighted some of the problems, pointing out that the Charter convention was limited to just over 60 members. "Is it a good idea to entrust the detailed technical work represented by simplification of the treaties or the defining of competences to a very enlarged structure?" he asked.

Any future body would have at least 100 members because of the need to include representatives from the 12 applicant countries. If the number of national MPs were increased to include coalition and opposition parties the size of the forum could swell.

But supporters of the convention in the European Parliament say the body does not need to be so big. "The 15 prime ministers must be represented but you would not have to require parity between all institutions," said UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff, a member of the convention which drafted the Charter.

But he stressed that the European Parliament had to have equal rights in preparing treaties. "For member states to close themselves to the option of a convention would be a disaster," he said. "It could create a situation in the Parliament where we could refuse to give our opinion if we were not granted participatory rights."

Support is growing among Member States for a group of political heavyweights to oversee the work of the planned convention that will draw up the next European Union treaty.

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