EU treaty measures ‘will not be cherry-picked’

EU leaders are today expected to formally set themselves a 2008 deadline to decide on what to do with the draft constitution rejected by the Dutch and French next year.

A proposal put by the Austrian presidency, which is to be approved at a council of ministers meeting in Brussels later, calls for a report in the first half of next year as to how to “continue the reform process”, and a decision by the end of 2008.

In the meantime, Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told reporters, ministers would work on practical projects such as developing a common energy policy and a joint approach to migration.

Speaking this morning, British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said the fact that ministers had given themselves more time did not meant the constitution was to be abandoned – nor that certain aspects of the treaty would be brought in by the back door.

“I don’t say there isn’t anybody in the European Union who wouldn’t like to cherry-pick some of the bits out of the new constitutional treaty,” she told Today.

“But on the whole I don’t see any appetite around Europe for people wanting to sort of take things that were new in the constitutional treaty and saying, well, let’s bring them in in some kind of surreptitious way.”

There was a lot in the draft constitutional treaty that was actually based on existing treaties, much of which was controversial, Ms Beckett said. She cited the European arrest warrant, which enables the transfer of suspects speedily across the continent.

She added: “I know that the area of justice and home affairs is a difficult and contentious one, although of course crime increasingly is pan-European, but there are no actual proposals… those are ideas people are tossing around.”

But Ms Beckett also insisted there were many things within the document that commanded strong support, telling the programme: “I can give you one simple example that I’d be quite surprised if anybody in the UK would oppose.

“That is that in the constitutional treaty there was a very strong suggestion about much greater powers, much greater subsidiarity, much greater direct flow of information and so on to national parliaments. Surely nobody’s going to be against that.”

Fifteen member states have ratified the constitution so far, and although France and the Netherlands are the only ones to reject it, analysts believe there will be no progress until elections take place – and possibly governments change – in those countries next year.