ANGELA Merkel the German Chancellor, has shown herself to be a skilful tactician and negotiator since her country took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union at the beginning of this year. However, as her period of office draws to a close she is entering its most testing period. In exactly four weeks from now, on June 21-22, she will preside over a summit meeting of the European Union at which several difficult issues will be on the table.

The most important of these is the so-called EU constitution which several states are now trying to rename as a treaty in order to diminish its importance. The constitution was rejected by the Dutch and French electorates in 2005 and has been dormant since to allow for what Tony Blair called “a period of reflection”. That period is over and the majority of EU states that have already ratified the constitution, among them Spain, want to settle the matter once and for all. A compromise measure, favoured by Britain, would be a treaty containing several of the least contentious provisions of the draft constitution, that would not require endorsement by the British people by means of a referendum.

Other countries favour such a treaty but do not necessarily agree on what should be saved from the constitution.
Frau Merkel's task is to reach sufficient agreement to enable the Portuguese presidency, which takes over on July 1, to complete the work.