Persson: don’t set EU constitution deadline

It is becoming too hard for EU member states to reach unanimous decisions, according to Göran Persson. If the EU manages to unite around a constitution in a few years, it will probably be the last time it achieves unanimity, Sweden's prime minister has said as EU heads of government gathered in Brussels.

The leaders are expected to keep the 25-country organization’s constitution on ice for a few more years. All member states are obliged to ratify the document for it to take effect, but the ratification process broke down last year after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in referendums.

In the proposal being considered today, Germany will be asked to present a report on the options for the EU during its presidency of the bloc in 2007. A deadline of late 2008, during the French presidency, has been proposed for a decision on reforms.

Several countries, including the UK and the Netherlands, oppose setting specific deadlines. Göran Persson is also sceptical.

“I don’t support us saying that by 2008 or 2009 such and such a thing will be completed. In that case I think we would fail again,” said Persson late on Thursday evening. But he said he did not want to declare the constitution dead.

Making decisions has become harder since the EU grew to encompass 25 countries. The constitution was supposed to solve this, with more decisions being made by qualified majority voting rather than unanimity. Backers of the constitution say the imminent entry of Romania and Bulgaria makes a decision even more urgent.

“You cannot keep adding floors to a building without making sure it has solid foundations. To recognise this is not to be against enlargement,” Josep Borrel, the European Parliament’s president told leaders.

EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the current EU treaty from 2000 was not enough to make the union work effectively.

“You can’t say yes to enlargement and no to the constitution,” he said.

The EU leaders will decide on Friday whether to impose new criteria on countries applying for membership. But Göran Persson said Sweden would give an ‘absolute no’ to any new criteria.