Hermann von Richthofen: A charter of basic rights for every citizen of Europe

From a speech by the former German ambassador to the UK to the law firm Ashurst

British discussions of the "New Europe" bear testimony to a troubled attitude towards the European Union. Margaret Thatcher's famous slogan "we do not need a European Union, but a European Free Trade Zone" continues to have an impact on public opinion, despite the commitment of her successors, John Major and Tony Blair, to play a dominant role at the heart of Europe.

In all honesty, nobody can sincerely believe that the clock of European integration will be turned back to a mere free trade zone, even if some of the 25 member states fail to ratify the new EU constitution. Instead, those member states who will ratify the constitutional treaty will most likely endeavour to carry the project to its completion.

I am extremely keen for the ratification of the constitutional treaty. The treaty elaborated by the European Convention on behalf of the citizens and states of Europe will turn the EU into a factor of greater stability and give Europe a strong, united voice in the modern world.

The preamble, provisions and annexes of the treaty draw on the cultural, religious and humanistic traditions of Europe. A binding charter of basic rights sets out the rights and freedoms of each individual citizen, making it a constitution for the European citizens.

A lot of scepticism towards the constitution results from fears about the process of the enlargement of the European Union, as people believe that it will worsen already existing fissiparous tendencies. I believe the opposite. In my view, enlargement will lead to deeper political and social integration. The accession of the Central and Eastern European countries to the EU last May ended the fateful division of Europe. Almost the whole of the European continent is now unified by bonds of common values and law.

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