NEWS

Britain is the problem for the Constitution

One issue which does not appear to concern Europeans but which will determine their future is the European Constitution recently approved by the EU Council of Ministers. As head of the Constitutional Convention for the Future of Europe, can you tell us if the final text diverged significantly from the original and whether you are optimistic about the final ratification, either by national parliaments or referendums? First of all, the draft we submitted for approval by the Council of Ministers was not dismantled. To be honest, the Constitutional Convention’s draft was somewhat better, but the differences are not important. The voting system for decision-making was made more complicated, but you will see that it will not be used. At any rate, it is the same draft which I presented at the Thessaloniki summit on June 18 last year, at the conclusion of the Greek presidency during the premiership of Costas Simitis. The text contained a reference to Thucydides, and I honestly do not know why it was withdrawn. Of course, the essence has not changed, although I believe the removal of this reference was a clumsy move against European and Greek culture. As for the ratification of the Constitution, the entire process should take one-and-a-half years. The first ratifications will take place in early 2005, so there will be a certain amount of activity within Europe. Will all the member states ratify it? That remains the question. I believe that most of them will. The Constitution will be ratified by the majority of the population. It is important that we operate with the citizen in mind. I am an Athenian by culture and I believe that citizens are the basis of democracy. I hope that Greece will be among the countries that will ratify the Constitution. What about Britain’s role? That is the biggest thorn. Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes to win the referendum, to take place once the Constitution has been ratified by most European states. That will show the British that if they vote against it, they will raise obstacles to progress and eventually be isolated. We have to bear in mind that the ratification of the Constitution in Britain will be a major political issue in the elections which the Labor government hopes to win. What the British people eventually decide to do is important because if the Constitution is not ratified, the problem will be Britain’s and not that of other European nations. In that case, the government will have to redefine its relations with Europe because we will not change the Constitution. Will the EU’s new members go along with us or will we find ourselves faced with new mutinies, as happened with Poland? What we said to the public in the new member states was not the best possible thing. We told them that the US was there for security and Europe for prosperity. So they joined Europe hoping to prosper. However, the European Union is experiencing an economic crisis. It is naturally trying to satisfy the new members, but I have the feeling that these efforts will not live up to their expectations, which we ourselves have created. Yet I do believe that the situation will be defused, because for some of the new countries, such as Hungary or Slovenia, life in the European Union will be nothing out of the ordinary. For some others, such as Poland, a country in a fragile political and economic state, accession will not be a walk in the park. Nevertheless, I do not believe there will be an anti-Europe majority. Which Europe? What form will Europe take? Will it be federal, of «variable geometry,» or hard core? The federal issue is dealt with in the Constitution. The European Union is a union of states with specific joint powers, in that it is based on the principle of delegation of responsibility. In a federal state, the federal system is in force. We simply assign federal responsibilities. What is not within the framework of federal powers remains under the authority of the member states. So, for example, competitiveness and commerce come under the federal system. While the exercise of powers is based on the federal model, it is not a federal system but powers are accorded to the Union. It is a unique system that Greek legislators of the fourth century BC had not thought of. As for the variable geometry you asked me about, the debate is continuing since some people want to proceed faster, others more slowly. But Europe is forced to move ahead and my hope is that progress is collective, as provided for in the Constitution. Those who delay will have to agree to follow behind the others, according to the rules we have established. Greece What will Greece’s place be in the New Europe? Greece was the 10th member of the former EEC. Economically, it has greatly improved and I believe its destiny is in the group of founding nations, from the point of view of overall development, but also based on the policies it has followed in recent years.