In the end it could only be qualified as a serious set-back, not altogether unforeseen: failure at the EU Summit in Brussels for representatives from 15 member states and 10 acceding countries to reach a compromise over a final framework for the EU's new constitution. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla expressed his disappointment, saying Europe had missed an important opportunity.
"I cannot consider the close of this conference a success and personally I am disappointed. We had an opportunity to make progress and put together a text that would have been better than the Treaty of Nice in all respects - even for individual states. It did not succeed - and Europe has suffered defeat, at least this round."
Division over issues such as voting rights within the Council of Ministers proved too strong as many had predicted in the weeks preceding the summit, divisions involving Germany and France on the one hand, and Poland and Spain on the other. The latter unwilling to give up gains in the Treaty of Nice giving them almost as much voting clout as either the Germans or the French. Where discussions left the Czechs - was somewhere in the middle. Though understanding of the Poles, the Czechs have leaned towards the simpler "double-majority" voting system proposed under the constitution draft from the very beginning, favoured by both the Germans and the French.
Now that the talks have stalled, and the constitution treaty has been delayed, many observers have begun to speculate on the possibility of a two-speed Europe: one bloc of countries continuing to rapidly and successfully integrate, while a second haggles and straggles behind. In such event the prime minister has made it clear where his priorities lie: to see the Czech Republic into the core of Europe. Still, hope remains that two-speeds won't be necessary. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, for one, remains confident that outstanding issues at the moment - will be solved in the end.
"For those who are against EU enlargement this could be seen as a strong signal but the vast majority of Czechs said in the referendum they would join the EU. We will be a full-fledged EU member state. And I believe we will see some positive results in the future, because the Inter-governmental Conference (IGC) is still in the process of continuation."
Now the dealings on the constitution will have to wait for a new year and a new EU presidency. Ireland picks up where Italy leaves off - and the Czech delegation, among many, will hope that Ireland will prove to be luckier ground. Says Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda: better an improved constitution later, than a poor deal brokered in the early morning of late-night dealings - an understanding reached by all EU members as they gave up discussions for the time being.
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