ATHENS.- The future constitution for the European Union and relations with the United States are set to top the agenda at the upcoming EU summit near Salonika in northern Greece, a Greek minister said recently.
“The EU constitution will be the first and foremost subject on the agenda,” Greek Deputy European Affairs Minister Tassos Yannitsis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told the Athens News Agency.
“The important matter of EU-U.S. relations,” he added, “is currently a very important subject because it will close a chapter opened with the war in Iraq.”
Yannitsis expressed reservations that a compromise on the content of the European constitution could be reached at the Salonika summit — set for June 19-21 — though he said he hoped an accord on procedure for final negotiations could be reached.
“We don’t expect decisions to be made on the main points, though we expect to fix the rules regarding the next part of the negotiations,” he said.
The talks between Greek Prime Minister and President of the European Council Costas Simitis and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Friday in Berlin were mainly concentrated on the draft of the European Constitution. Simitis and Schroeder underscored the need for the “15” to accept the proposal of the Convention for the future of the EU at the Thessaloniki Summit and that it be adopted by the 10 new member-states, before the Euroelections in June 2004.
At the joint press conference, the Greek prime minister and the German chancellor stressed that this issue will dominate the Thessaloniki Summit, in order for there to be a committed schedule for the completion of the Inter-Governmental Convention’s works in time. They pointed out that the basic requirement is to avoid negotiations anew at the Inter-Governmental Convention, which will decide on the final form of the European Constitution. The position of the “15” will play a decisive role in achieving this goal.
Simitis stressed that the more than 20 capitals he has visited so far have given him the impression that the proposed solution is the best possible compromise for the time being.
“What we need now is to find a solution that is acceptable to all, applicable, so that we can move further. And later, when things are clearer, we may be able to find better solutions. What is necessary now is for us to make a step, which is feasible, and I believe that the compromise proposed is a good one and one on which we can work,” he said.
When asked about German-U.S. relations, Schroeder responded by saying that inter-Atlantic relations, both European-U.S. relations and German-U.S. relations are characterized by the same interests.
“America needs Europe and Europe needs America. That is why I believe that inter-Atlantic relations are alright, even when, occasionally, there are different views on individual issues. When one has relations – and those relations exist between Europe and the U.S. – which are based on common values, then the different views on political issues can be dealt with in a friendly way. Of course, there are occasional differences in formulations, in the diplomatic language, from one side or the other, as we have heard lately, but they are not important,” he said.
Also on Friday, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe — the body responsible for drawing up the EU constitution — announced that the blueprint was ready for EU leaders’ scrutiny.
“The debate between leaders of member states… on Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s proposition will be an indication of what we can expect regarding an agreement,” Yannitsis said.
The Greek minister said he hoped that the intergovernmental conference (IGC), a rolling series of meetings scheduled to begin in October, would be able to complete negotiations on the constitution before European elections in June 2004. He also said he hoped the final agreement “will be signed by the new member states that will join on May 1 .”
The constitutional debate has polarized both large and small member states, which fear they and the executive European Commission will lose out as a result of the new power-sharing arrangements.
On the EU’s relations with the U.S. Yannitsis said he hoped “past differences [with the U.S.] can be overcome in order to build a constructive relationship.”
The summit will be the first official meeting of EU heads of state since the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis is scheduled to meet U.S. President George W. Bush three days after the Salonika summit.
Yannitsis said that the summit would also discuss EU policy in the Balkans.
Some 30,000 anti-globalization demonstrators are expected to turn up for the summit and the Greek authorities have mobilized 15,000 police, soldiers and fireman to assure security, a Greek police source said Friday.
Around 11,000 policemen will be strategically placed between Salonika itself, where a counter-summit is due to be held, and the resort of Porto Carras about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south where EU leaders are to meet.
Thessaloniki European Council Schedule
The schedule of the European Council to be held in Thessaloniki June19-21 and the issues of the Summit were made public by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Panos Beglitis.
Thursday, June 19
19:00 Opening of European Council meeting on immigration
20:15 Greek Presidency Press Conference
Dinner (coin de feu), during which the Middle East, the situation in Iraq, non-proliferation of WMDs and the struggle against international terrorism will be discussed.
Friday, June 20
9:00 Presentation of the European Convention by President Valerie Giscard D’Estaing, round table with the positions of the “25”. Exchange of views on all “open” institutional issues. Conclusions of the Greek presidency and the president of the European Council Costas Simitis.
12:30 Joint press conference of European Council President Costas Simitis with President of the European Commission Romano Prodi and President of the Convention Valerie Giscard D’Estaing.
13:30 Luncheon during which EU-U.S. relations and the agenda of the EU-US Summit to be held June 25 in Washington will be discussed. There will also be a presentation of the European Security Strategy by High EU Representative on Foreign and Security Policy Issues Javier Solana, based on the directions he received in Castelorizo.
17:00 Family photograph
17:30 Examination of conclusion draft
19:30 Presidency Press Conference
20:00 Greek presidency meeting with three candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey).
21:30 Dinner for the delegations held by President of the Republic Costis Stefanopoulos.
Saturday, June 21
8:30-9:00 Summit Meeting (prime ministerial, presidential and foreign minister level) EU-Western Balkans, with the participation of Bosnia-Herzegovina spokesperson Lord P. Asdoun, Special Envoy of the UN in Kosovo M. Steiner, and Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact, E. Busek.
09:00-10:30 Adoption of Thessaloniki Statement for the strengthening of the European prospects of Western Balkan countries by the European Council. The message that these countries may be incorporated in 2006 is expected to be announced.
10:30 Presidency Press Conference
12:00 Delegation departure for a short visit to Mt. Athos via boat. Return scheduled for 15:30-16:00