Blair says no European constitution needed

Veronica Brown
Monday April 16, 2007

Europe does not need a constitution, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday, but should opt for a less ambitious new treaty that would not require a referendum.

After talks with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, Blair said the two countries' positions on how to break the logjam over the European constitution were very close.

"What the Dutch and the British are saying is that it is important we go back to the idea of a conventional treaty where the idea is to make Europe work more effectively, because we now have 27 countries rather than 15 ... rather than a treaty with the characteristics of a constitution," Blair told a joint news conference with Balkenende.

In 2005 French and Dutch voters rejected the European constitution in referendums, halting reform of the European Union's decision-making procedures and institutions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the EU's six-month presidency, wants to resuscitate the treaty and the subject will be a main topic of debate at an EU leaders meeting in June.

Balkenende said that during the referendum campaign in the Netherlands voters had voiced fears about Brussels becoming a superstate, showing that the constitution was seen as not belonging "to the hearts and minds of people".

Blair's spokesman said an amending treaty would not require a referendum "in the same way that for the last 50 years other treaties of the kind that we're envisaging haven't needed a referendum".

Blair suspended plans for a British referendum on the EU constitution after the French and Dutch votes. Given widespread euroscepticism in Britain, the government fears it could lose such a vote.

Balkenende said debate on any amendment treaty should focus on explaining the responsibility of Brussels, strengthening the role of national parliaments and deciding whether rules for future enlargement of the bloc could be incorporated into it.

The foreign affairs spokesman for the Conservatives, William Hague, accused Blair of doing a U-turn on the EU constitution and said this left Blair with very little credibility. "It is not enough to change the title," he said in a statement.



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