Thursday, October 2, 2014
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The EU Constitution Can Work

The final stage in drafting an EU Constitutional Treaty is underway. Smaller and bigger EU members seem to be lining up in opposing camps. Here Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen offers his hopes for what type of treaty will emerge.

After the historic decision on enlargement, the European Union now faces the task of making a Union with 25 or more Member States a success. That is the task of the Intergovernmental Conference, which started its work on October 4th. Governments of the 15 current member states and the 10 new members will negotiate a Constitutional Treaty that will form the framework for European co-operation in the future.

We aim for a Treaty that can stand for several years without further changes. Denmark has a clear goal in these talks: to ensure a strong, democratic and transparent Union.

The Intergovernmental Conference works on the basis of the draft Treaty presented by the European Convention. The Convention worked in full transparency for more than a year, designing a single, consolidated draft Treaty that was agreed upon by a broad consensus among its members.

The Convention's draft Treaty provides for a more simple and comprehensible structure for the EU based on more democratic and transparent co-operation between member states. Indeed, it underlines the fact that the member states are the defining building blocks of the EU and defines the competences of the Union clearly.

The Intergovernmental Conference should therefore not re-open the main political compromises of the Convention. There are, however, a number of questions that need further deliberation. This is the case with some of the more technical issues relating to individual policy areas. And it is especially the case concerning institutional questions.

Denmark therefore fully supports the Italian Presidency's aim to complete the work of the Intergovernmental Conference by the end of the year. Like the Italian President, we believe the negotiations should focus mainly on the central institutional questions.

Denmark's priorities are clear. The new Treaty must fulfil two basic demands:

it must respect the central role of member states and it must maintain the balance between larger and smaller members;

the institutional structure must be efficient, democratic, and transparent.

The three central institutional questions confronting the Intergovernmental Conference are the future organization of the Commission and the Council, as well as determining the role of the future President of the European Council. We must find a solution that realizes the full potential of all three actors.

Denmark presented a proposal on how to strengthen the organization of the Commission that reflects two considerations. On the one hand, the principle of one commissioner per Member State with full voting powers carries great importance to many member states and to many citizens. At the same time, we must ensure that the Commission can work effectively with 25 or more members.

Our proposal seeks to retain the Convention's idea of limiting the number of portfolios in the Commission while giving all commissioners full voting rights. We suggest that the work of the Commission be concentrated in 15-19 portfolios. The heaviest portfolios should be shared among a number of commissioners, one of them responsible for coordination. This model will ensure an efficient Commission with strong public legitimacy.

Strengthening the Commission must go hand in hand with strengthening the Council. It is not a zero-sum game. The Council Presidency, in my view, should remain embedded in the member states. With 25 and more members, however, it is necessary to improve the present rotating Presidency (in particular the lack of continuity).

While being open towards the idea of a "Team Presidency" involving, for example, three countries for a period of one year or eighteen months, I worry that it would make horizontal co-ordination and the smooth daily conduct of business more difficult. Therefore, I believe that we should modernize the present rotating Presidency.

But whether we continue with the current format for the Presidency or introduce a team model, we must consider how the President of the European Council can play a role in coordinating work within the Council.

The purpose of the European Council Chair is to ensure the coherence and decision-making capacity of the European Council. He or she must of course be given the necessary means to perform this task. At the same time we must avoid creating a presidential system that functions independently of the Council, the Commission, and the member states. But if we do not integrate the President of the European Council into the existing institutional structure and relegate the presidency to presiding over the meetings of the European Council, we will miss an important chance to strengthen the overall decision-making capacity of the Union. We also risk creating competing structures that will weaken the institutions as a whole.

Denmark seeks an ambitious result in the institutional negotiations. We wish to strengthen the EU's ability to solve the problems of the member states. In order to accomplish this goal, we owe it to ourselves to create a strong, democratic, and transparent framework for co-operation in an enlarged Union.

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