EU leaders sign historic first constitution in Rome

  • 2004-11-01
  • From wire reports
ROME/VILNIUS - Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis joined fellow EU member-state leaders to sign the union's first constitution in a solemn ceremony in Rome on Oct. 29.

Valionis told journalists that the EU constitution would not alter Lithuania's situation, nor would it change the country's influence on decisions. It would, however, somewhat restrict the rights of the bloc's largest members, he added.

The foreign minister stressed that the EU's first constitutional treaty was "a big step forward by Europe as a whole."

The EU constitution is designed to ensure more transparent and efficient functioning of the bloc, increase its number of obligations and to introduce a chairman for the Council of Europe, who, together with the EU's foreign minister, will represent the union on the international arena. This will replace the existing rotation system, in which countries take turn presiding over the council every six months.

As stipulated in the document, the European Parliament is to be given more power, and more decisions will be approved by majority voting. The document also states that the EU's present cumbersome and complex institutions should be made more understandable for citizens.

The constitution will come into effect only after being ratified by all 25 members: Some will put the document to a vote in national parliaments, while others will hold referendums. Adamkus and Valionis believe that the country should approve the constitution in Parliament.

According to Valionis, 11 EU members have already stated plans to hold referendums, while 13 will ratify the constitution in Parliament.

The organization's newly appointed foreign minister will be responsible for security and defense policies - duties currently performed by commissioners Chris Patten and Javier Solana.

The document's preamble says that the organization receives its inspiration from Europe's cultural, religious and human heritage. The Vatican, and Catholic countries such as Poland and Spain, asked for attention to be drawn to the continent's Christian roots. Their requests, however, were ignored.

According to the constitution, EU laws are superior to national legislation. The document also - for the first time - allows the possibility for a member-state to withdraw from the bloc if it wishes to do so.

During the ceremony, attending heads of foreign states applauded Prime Minister Brazauskas for the fact that he will most likely remain in his job after weeks of speculation.

When asked by journalists as to whether fellow EU leaders also inquired about the country's domestic policy (see story Page 1), Brazauskas replied: "I can say proudly that they congratulated Lithuania on taking a good course."