Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Questions remain over content of EU constitution draft


Foreign ministers facing a deadline in two weeks for a final draft EU constitution must still decide whether it should provide for a foreign minister or mention God when the expanded grouping enters the world stage.

The 15-nation EU expands to 25 nations next May. The ministers, who began discussions on a charter two months ago, have made little headway on other thorny issues, including the allocation of European Parliament seats and the powers of the European Central Bank.

They were due to seek agreement for the second day of a two-day meeting yesterday, but officials said it will be up to the leaders of the EU nations meeting in Brussels on Dec. 12 to 13, to reach a compromise.

"It is clear we are not at the moment close to a deal," said Poland's European Affairs Minister Danuta Huebner.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told BBC radio.

Once a draft constitution is agreed on, the text will be published in all EU languages, then scrutinized in national referendums. The charter would take effect Jan. 1, 2005.

The biggest hurdle has been objections by Spain and Poland to the changes in the voting system in the 465-article draft constitution.

The draft constitution suggests that decisions be adopted if at least half the EU states representing 60 percent of the bloc's population are in favor.

But Spain and Poland want to stick to a 1999 deal allocating them 27 votes each in the EU executive commission, the group's decision-making body. That's two less than for the more populous Britain, France, Germany and Italy, which each get 29 votes.

"You can't just go and give 82 million Germans 29 votes, and then give a combined 80 million Poles and Spaniards 54 votes," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in November.

On foreign policy, Britain objects to the title of foreign minister, arguing it suggests there is such a thing as a European super-state.

In a last-minute proposal, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, the meeting's chairman, suggested EU foreign policy decisions be made by majority voting -- an idea that Britain, Sweden and others oppose.

On defense, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg want a permanent EU military planning commission and command group based at NATO's military headquarters near the southern Belgian city of Mons.

EU military planners would draw on NATO's transport planes, satellite intelligence and communications network for peacekeeping missions.

The US has been critical of plans to launch a separate EU military planning cell, saying it risked undermining NATO unity and would waste scarce resources by duplicating existing alliance facilities.

Negotiators have still not determined whether to mention God or Europe's Christian heritage in the charter.

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