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Merkel welcomes Blair's position on EU constitution

Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for a quick decision on a European Union constitutional treaty, her spokesman said Friday.

This could encourage other governments who are skeptical about the constitutional process to come to an agreement, deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said. Blair said in an interview published in European newspapers Friday that he wants an agreement on a scaled-back version of the EU constitution at a summit in Brussels late June. Steg said the chancellor would discuss the matter with the British premier when the two leaders hold talks in Berlin on Tuesday afternoon. In the interview, Blair dropped plans to hold a referendum on the EU constitution, saying a limited new treaty, focused on updating the EU's rules and institutions, did not require a plebiscite. Blair said he expects agreement on "the basic outline agreement for a treaty" at the June 21-22 summit - the last under Germany's EU presidency and his final act on the European stage before handing over power to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

Blair spoke of the "big reality" that Europe had to face after French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution in 2005, and the need for a new treaty to make an enlarged union of 27 work more effectively. That would probably include new voting rules, a new EU president and foreign minister, enhanced powers for national parliaments and a slimmed-down European Commission, he said in a version of the interview published in the Financial Times. Blair said such a treaty would simply amend the EU's existing legal base, and would not have the characteristics of the constitution, which aimed to re-establish the EU and contained trappings of statehood, such as a flag and anthem. Merkel, who plans to present the summit with a roadmap on how to proceed with the new constitution, is working to persuade other skeptics, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, of the need for a new text. (