Angela Merkel on Monday kicks off the decisive phase of her efforts to revive the European Union’s stalled constitutional treaty by providing red carpet treatment to Vaclav Klaus, the eurosceptic Czech president.
The German chancellor, holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, is due to meet Mr Klaus at the government’s newly opened Meseberg castle near Berlin.
The talks mark the opening of 10 weeks of lobbying by German diplomats aimed at establishing sufficient common ground among EU member states for their leaders to agree to relaunch the constitutional treaty at a summit at the end of June.
Officials hope tomorrow’s venue – which has only been used once for a top level meeting since it was opened in February – and the involvement of former German president Roman Herzog in the talks could prompt a softening by Mr Klaus, who last month used the EU’s 50th birthday to warn against moving quickly towards a treaty.
Mr Herzog struck a chord with Mr Klaus when he said that besides the benefits of the EU there was a “danger” that democracy in member states could be weakened if decision-making became more centralised in Brussels.
Officials said Ms Merkel’s invitation to Mr Herzog was aimed at providing the Czech leader an opportunity to debate with a respected constitutional expert. Mr Herzog in 1999-2000 chaired the EU convention that drafted the bloc’s charter of fundamental rights.
Next Monday Ms Merkel’s two envoys heading the constitution negotiations start a new round of bilateral talks with counterparts from each of the other 26 member states, in order to agree on a “negotiating corridor” ahead of the June summit, according to people familiar with Berlin’s approach.
Germany is believed to be ready to make concessions to more sceptical countries, including the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic, by proposing a shorter treaty that would no longer be referred to as a constitution.
Trappings of EU statehood, such as an anthem and flag, are likely to be dropped while the charter of fundamental rights – a central part of the document rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 – may receive only a cross-reference in the new treaty.
Institutional elements – including a new EU president and simplified voting rights – would be retained, despite strong opposition from Poland to the proposed voting system.