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CANDIDATE COUNTRIES FEAR THEY WILL BE SHUT OUT OF FINAL DECISION MAKING

Slovakia weighs in on EU constitution

SLOVAKIA has been asked for feedback on a draft of the EU's first constitutional treaty, currently being prepared by the Convention on the Future of the EU, but the country may not have much impact on the final shape of the document, analysts say.
The Convention is comprised of political representatives from EU members and candidate countries, and selected members of the European Commission and the European Parliament.
Its main purpose is to propose ways of adapting and renovating Europe's institutional and political framework in a draft EU constitutional treaty. Once finished, this draft will be submitted to an intergovernmental conference of EU member states, which will decide the final shape of Europe's constitutional organisation.

SLOVAKIA has been asked for feedback on a draft of the EU's first constitutional treaty, currently being prepared by the Convention on the Future of the EU, but the country may not have much impact on the final shape of the document, analysts say.

The Convention is comprised of political representatives from EU members and candidate countries, and selected members of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Its main purpose is to propose ways of adapting and renovating Europe's institutional and political framework in a draft EU constitutional treaty. Once finished, this draft will be submitted to an intergovernmental conference of EU member states, which will decide the final shape of Europe's constitutional organisation.

The first 16 articles of the treaty were drawn up by the Convention's presidium and presented to the Convention members in October 2002. These chapters define the union and its objectives, EU citizenship, fundamental rights, and the distribution of competencies within the EU.

On February 27 and 28, the Convention discussed the proposed amendments to these 16 articles, and discussions will continue sporadically until consensus is reached. The deadline for a final draft of the entire document - consisting of 46 articles and a section of policy - is currently June 2003.

One of the suggestions made by Slovak representatives was to strike a provision stating that the EU would administer certain competencies on a federal basis.

"Only competencies [in those fields] in which the member states are not able to gain better results or greater success on their own should be transferred to a European level, that is, to Brussels," said Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan.

In Slovakia, most media attention has been given to a proposal put forward by Ján Figeľ, representative of the Slovak parliament in the Convention, that God should be mentioned in the document.

"Among the values of the EU are those of people who have faith in God as a source of truth, justice, goodness, and beauty, as well as of those who do not share this faith, but respect these universal values," the Slovak proposal states.

The proposal, whose wording is taken from the Polish constitution and appears in the proposals of some EU members, is opposed by other representatives of EU member countries.

"Europeans live in a purely secular political system, where religion does not play an important role," said Convention head Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Other proposals put forward by Slovak representatives touch on various issues. If Slovaks get their way, the EU will strive for economic growth that is non-inflationary, and collective security will be mentioned in the treaty, which will continue to be called a constitutional treaty and not constitution.

Before the start of the February deliberations, members of the Convention submitted 1,038 proposed amendments to the first 16 articles. Given that number, finding an agreement may not be easy.

"There is no voting in the Convention. There will be an effort to reach consensus. How that should be done remains unclear," said Vladimír Bilčík, analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.

Considering the task at hand, some fear the Convention may not be able to keep its June deadline to finish the draft, particularly since many members have shown interest in participating in the debate.

"Debates are becoming more intensive now, yet there is less time for discussion. The plenary session at the end of February introduced a new restriction whereby each member of the Convention now has only two minutes for his or her speech," said Bilčík.

"Discussions in the Convention may well drag on, but that may be advantageous for the applicants, because the longer the Convention debate takes, the greater the likelihood that the intergovernmental conference will start at a later date. Slovakia will only be able to participate in that conference as a full-fledged member if it joins the EU before that conference ends," said Bilčík.

However, some European leaders believe that the Convention will finish its work as scheduled, and that the intergovernmental conference will start soon after that.

"I understand that the candidate countries are worried about their participation at the intergovernmental conference, but we must preserve the dynamic of the process, so the pause between the Convention and the beginning of the conference should be as short as possible," said German foreign minister Joschka Fischer.

Fischer assured the representatives of V4 countries in the Convention that their objections will be taken into account at the conference, which he said could start as early as this September and be concluded this year.

"It is true that a lot of [countries] are pushing for the conference to end before enlargement," said Bilčík. These countries are said to include Germany, Italy, and France.

But despite assurances that they will be heard, candidate countries are unlikely to be happy about being shut out of the final decision-making process, analysts say.

"If this conference ends prior to our entry into the EU and we are asked to sign the constitutional treaty after accession, it might raise questions about the legitimacy of the ratification process," said Bilčík.

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