March 22, 2004

Speaker explores status of European Constitution

Lailee Mendelson is communications coordinator for the Office of International Affairs.

In December 2003, The Economist reported that plans for the proposed Constitution for Europe was "in tatters" and may not be revived for months or even years. On March 28-30, the Halle Institute for Global Learning will host Gijs de Vries, ambassador of the Netherlands with responsibility for European affairs and the country's former representative at the European Convention, who will share his perspectives on this issue on the eve of the European Union's (EU) eastward expansion.

On March 29, de Vries will speak to students in an open class from 9:35-10:25 a.m. in 120 Tarbutton on the subject of "Diversity, Democracy and Decisiveness: Governance in the European Union." The next day, he will give a lunchtime lecture on "Europe and Its Constitution: A Continent United?" In addition, de Vries will be available for appointments in the Office of International Affairs.

In 2002, de Vries was appointed representative of the government of the Netherlands at the European Convention. After 18 months of difficult debate, in July 2003 the 105 delegates from 25 countries agreed on a planned treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.

But only six months later, the project was put on hold. The sticking point centered on proposed changes in the voting system meant to avoid stalemates at future EU summits as the union expands from 15 to 25 countries; Poland and Spain objected to the changes and insisted on maintaining the system agreed upon in 2000, which gave them nearly as many votes as Germany despite having only about half Germany's population.

Ten countries will join the EU after May 1: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Cyprus. In the meantime, the original 15 member states already are imposing restrictions on migration from these counties. While at Emory, de Vries will discuss these recent developments, as well as future expectations for EU politics and transatlantic relations.

A commander in the Order of Merit of the Hellenic Republic, de Vries had an impressive 15-year career as a member of the European Parliament, where he led the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) delegation and later the larger Liberal and Democratic Group in the European Parliament, before returning to the Netherlands to serve as state secretary of the interior and kingdom relations for several years.

De Vries was elected to the European Parliament in 1984. While a first-term MP, he served as spokesman for the Liberal and Democratic Group on the internal market and EU trade policy. He was re-elected twice and was leader of the VVD in the 1989 and 1994 European elections. From 1989-92 he served as chairman of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Canada and in 1994 was elected leader of the Liberal and Democratic Group in the European Parliament.

Chairman of the Dutch committee of the European Cultural Foundation, de Vries cofounded the Transatlantic Policy Network in 1992 and served as chairman of the Atlantic Commission of the Netherlands from 1991-97. A political scientist with legal expertise, he was a lecturer in international relations on the law faculty of Leiden University in the early 1980s. As ambassador of the Netherlands, he currently is working on special projects for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Faculty or students interested in attending the March 30 luncheon, or who would like to make an appointment to meet de Vries, may contact Peter Wakefield, Halle Institute program director, at 404-727-7467 or at by March 24.