LONDON: The approaching handover of power by British Prime Minister Tony Blair may complicate efforts to chart a way forward for the European Constitution, Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said.
Amato, speaking at the London School of Economics on 20 February, said the transition of power in Britain was crucial to prospects for reviving the constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the European Union’s six-month presidency, wants to resuscitate the treaty. She aims to offer a plan by June for ending the deadlock before European Parliament elections in mid-2009.
Amato said his best expectation was that the German presidency would produce a mandate for a future inter-governmental conference on a new treaty.
“One of the reasons why I’m not sure whether this dream of mine might come true in June is the British transition, because the British prime minister on that occasion might meet some difficulty committing his country for the future,” he said in a question and answer session after giving a lecture on the constitution.
Blair has said he will attend the June European Union (EU) summit but he is expected to step down soon afterwards after a decade in power.
His successor is likely to be finance minister Gordon Brown who some European officials think has little interest in the EU.
On the state of negotiations on reviving the treaty, Amato said: “People are not ready as yet to come out with their real arguments. So there is a general goodwill in restoring the debate and see(ing) where we can go from here, but the final destination is still in my view obscure.”
“One of the reasons is the transition in this crucial country for Europe,” he said, referring to Britain.
“These islands are an essential part of Europe. They should stop thinking of themselves as the ‘Highlanders´,” he said. “Like it or not, they (the British) are Europeans.”
The constitution, designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-nation bloc, has been ratified by 18 countries, including Italy.
Britain suspended a planned referendum and six other countries have also held back from putting the constitution to a public or parliamentary vote.
Blair said in January last there was no change in his insistence on the need for a British referendum on any EU constitutional treaty.
British officials, however, have said they favour amendments to existing treaties that could be approved by parliament rather than sweeping constitutional changes that would have to be put to a popular vote.