Germany prepares to take over EU presidency

28/12/2006

Reviving the moribund EU constitution, stabilising the Western Balkans and the continuation of accession talks with Turkey and Croatia are among Germany's priorities during its six-month chairmanship of the bloc, which begins on January 1st.

(AFP - 28/12/06; AP, Reuters, Spiegel Online - 27/12/06; AFP, DPA, Deutsche Welle, International Herald tribune, EUobserver, RFE/RL - 19/12/06)

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced hope that the EU constitution will be put "back on track". [Getty Images]

Germany will take over the rotating six-month EU presidency from Finland on Monday (January 1st), seven years after it last held the reins of the then much smaller bloc. Topping the agenda of its chairmanship are the Union's faltering constitution, the Middle East peace process, climate change, stability in the Western Balkans, and EU enlargement.

The EU constitutional treaty, drawn up in 2004 to streamline the expanding bloc's institutions, was put on ice after French and Dutch voters rejected it in separate national referendums about 18 months ago.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced hope earlier this month that the constitutional project would be put "back on track" during her country's turn at the helm of the EU, so that it could be finalised before the end of France's presidency of the Union on December 31st, 2008. If that happens, the next European parliamentary elections in 2009 will be held according to the new regulations.

"We count on being able to put forward a report towards the end of our presidency in which we present a plan," Merkel said during a visit to Copenhagen last week. "In 2008, when the French have the presidency, we hope to get a result." The constitution already has been ratified by 18 of the EU nations, including Bulgaria and Romania, which will join the Union on Monday, bringing the number of members to 27.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said last week that he had asked the other 26 countries to appoint special representatives as interlocutors on the constitution's revival.

Merkel reportedly is planning to hold face-to-face meetings with leaders of all other EU nations during the first three months of 2007 to find common ground needed to push forward the process.

The European leaders, who will meet in Berlin in the end of March to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, are expected to adopt a short declaration explaining "the underlying rationale" of the Union and its future course. Germany hopes that it will be able to formally present a roadmap for navigating the constitutional stalemate during the traditional EU summit in June.

"It will concern, more realistically, an agreed roadmap for the process to come, which we intend to supplement with the outline of a solution," Steinmeier explained.

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Stabilising the Western Balkans, particularly by supporting the Kosovo status negotiations or implementing the outcome if an agreement has been reached during the German EU presidency, is another task on Berlin's to-do list. To achieve this, the EU will deploy its largest civil mission ever, with a focus on justice and policing.

While the EU is not expected to accept any new members after Bulgaria and Romania until it has resolved its institutional problems, enlargement will remain a key issue on the German presidency's agenda, including the ongoing accession talks with Croatia and Turkey.

"The negotiations on the EU's Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina could be concluded during Germany's presidency," Berlin said in a document detailing its programme.

Germany will also focus on formulating a new energy action plan for the EU and on negotiations with Russia on a new partnership agreement. The current one effectively is set to expire at the end of 2007, when Portugal will be winding up its six-month EU presidency. In addition, Germany will seek to promote new initiatives to fight climate change and strengthen the bloc's relations with energy-rich and strategically important neighbours including Russia, other former Soviet republics and Arab nations.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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