In Focus: Constitutional Treaty for Europe: the ‘period of reflection’ one year on, May 2006

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In a Declaration issued at the meeting they announced that ratification should be suspended for a period of reflection, which 'will be used to enable a broad debate to take place in each of our countries, involving citizens, civil society, social partners, national parliaments and political parties. This debate, designed to generate interest, which is already under way in many Member States, must be intensified and broadened. The European institutions will also have to make their contribution, with the Commission playing a special role in this regard.'

It was further decided that the matter should be revisited 'in the first half of 2006 to make an overall assessment of the national debates and agree on how to proceed'. Although seven Member States, including the more eurosceptic Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, decided to suspend their internal ratification procedures, others proceeded with it. On Europe Day, 9 May 2006, Estonia's Parliament voted in favour of the Constitution, thereby making the country the fifteenth to ratify it. Finland is set to approve ratification when it holds the Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2006.

Aiming to fulfil its 'special role' in the matter, the European Commission published a Communication in October 2005, entitled 'The Commission's contribution to the period of reflection and beyond: Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate' [COM(2005) 494].
Plan D, according the Commission, has to be seen in a wider context than just the question of the Constitutional Treaty. It is aiming to bring the EU closer to its alienated citizens, not least by improving the information and communication policy of the EU's institutions.

On 19 January 2006 the European Parliament adopted a resolution based on an own-initiative report, which had been drafted by MEPs Andrew Duff and Jonas Voggenhuber for its Constitutional Affairs Committee. In this resolution Parliament stressed the need for a constitutional settlement to keep European integration going, especially in the light of further enlargement and its impact on institutional affairs. As a contribution to the debate during the reflection period it suggested to hold regular joint Parliamentary meetings. The first such forum brought together almost 250 MEPs and Members of national Parliaments on 8 May 2006 to debate the future of Europe.

After a period of relative silence on the issue during the UK Presidency (July-December 2005), the political debate on the future of the Constitutional Treaty has been revived across the European Union since the beginning of 2006. Suggestions have been wide-ranging. Some have called for renewed efforts to win over the majority of the French and the Dutch as well as other opponents in order to go ahead with the Constitution in its present form. Others would like to see less controversial parts of the Treaty adopted, which are held to be crucial for the continued functioning of the EU's institutions. Others again have declared the European Constitution dead, arguing that the voters' verdict has not left any basis for revival of the text in its present form or even parts of it.

After convening for internal discussions at a two-day seminar in late March the European Commission on 10 May 2006 presented its contribution to the discussions at the forthcoming June European Council. In the first of two documents, a paper entitled 'A Citizens' Agenda: Delivering results for Europe' [COM(2006) 211] the Commission makes a number of suggestions on how to take the EU forward in practical terms, given the current absence of a new Treaty. It also calls on the European Council to endorse a step-by-step approach with a view to a future constitutional settlement.

Along with this 'Citizens' Agenda' the Commission adopted a Communication entitled 'Plan D and the period of reflection' [COM(2006)212]. In this document the Commission sets out the feedback it had received from across the EU during the reflection period. It brings together a synthesis of national debates and the results of a special Eurobarometer survey on the Future of Europe, conducted in early 2006.

At their summit meeting on 15-16 June 2006, the EU's Heads of State and Government are expected by many to extend the period of reflection, whether this will be to the time of the German Presidency in the first half of 2007 or beyond that.

Find updated and further information sources in the ESO database:

Find the latest information on the Constitutional Treaty for Europe
Ratification of the Constitutional Treaty: the period of reflection
Read the June 2005 Declaration by EU leaders on the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty
Find background information and reactions to the June 2005 European Council
Find more detailed information on the Constitutional Treaty for Europe
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Thomas Pritzkow
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May 2006

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