Brüssel, 17. May 2004 Press release

Ferrero-Waldner expresses satisfaction with some of the solutions for the EU Constitution

17.05.2004

Principle of equality of all Member States guaranteed

Brussels, 17 May 2004 - After today’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner expressed her satisfaction with the solutions found with regard to some of the chapters discussed. Ferrero-Waldner explicitly named the following issues:

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), about which the Foreign Minster felt that "a number of misconceptions" had been circulating in the recent past. "In order to eliminate any doubts, I once again repeat: we have achieved what we wanted. As regards the hotly disputed assistance clause, the Constitution will explicitly point out the "specific character of the defence policy of certain Member States," and the so-called solidarity clause, which applies in the event that a Member State is hit by terrorism or natural disaster, explicitly states that each Member State is free to choose the means by which to exercise solidarity," the Foreign Minister said.

As the Foreign Minister pointed out, it had "not been a foregone conclusion" that the principle of equality of all Member States will now be explicitly embodied in the Constitution. Likewise anchored in the constitution will be the rights of minorities and the principle of equality between men and women. Moreover, it was successfully resolved that euro area countries will have the right to take economic policy decisions among themselves. "We also succeeded in getting "price stability" included in the list of EU objectives. These are important issues for the functioning of the Stability Pact and the euro area," Ferrero-Waldner said.

In addition, the social dimension has also been given more weight: "A horizontal social clause will be incorporated, stipulating that the EU must give due regard to a high level of employment and social security in all policy areas. Also anchored in the draft is the provision that animal protection must be taken into account in the Union's various political policy measures," the Foreign Minister continued. Finally, agreement was reached today on the fact that the so-called services of general interest (i.e. short-distance public transport, waste disposal, health services) will remain within the competence of the Member States.

Tomorrow, the second day of Intergovernmental Conference consultations, the "difficult issues," as Ferrero-Waldner put it, will be on the agenda. The Foreign Minister expects tough negotiations tomorrow, especially over the issue of "qualified majority voting" - for example on taxation and foreign policy issues -, the budgetary procedure and the debate on the "future financial perspectives." According to Ferrero-Waldner it "cannot to be ruled out" that an initial discussion on the Commission issue might also come up again after a long pause.