EU leaders make last-ditch efforts for agreement on new treaty

EU

As time is running out for the two-day summit of the European Union (EU), EU leaders made last- ditch efforts on Friday to secure an agreement on the road map for a future EU treaty, which will replace the EU constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters two years ago.

However, prospects for such an agreement remain doubtful especially after Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Friday night in Warsaw that compromise proposals put forward by the German EU presidency for Poland's concerns over the voting system were unacceptable. Kaczynski held an emergency meeting with two of his deputy premiers to discuss the issue of voting system in a future EU treaty. Later, he told Polish TV that Poland was still open to compromise but that "one cannot give way all the time." An official from the Polish government also said that it was still possible for Poland to veto the road map plan aimed at relaunching negotiations for an EU treaty.

Reports here said that Merkel met with Polish President Lech Kaczynski for three times within 12 hours, but it seems that she has failed to persuade Kaczynski to soften his stance. Merkel also held separate meetings with leaders of Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic on Friday to iron out differences over the road map plan. Poland is firm in its opposition to the "double majority" voting scheme envisaged in the EU constitution, fearing that populous countries like Germany would dominate decision making in the union. The "double majority" voting system provides for decision- making by at least 55 percent of the number of member states and at the same time 65% of EU's total population at the expense of national vetoes.

Poland has threatened to derail the new treaty process and proposed a new voting scheme instead - a nation's votes would equal the square root of its population. Poland is supported by the Czech Republic. Britain is concerned about the inclusion of the EU charter of fundamental rights, which it fears may affect its labor laws. London also has fears that a new treaty would give Brussels too much power on criminal justice matters. The Netherlands has also expressed fears on the EU becoming a superstate, and demanded more power for national parliaments. Speaking to reporters Friday after emerging from summit talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that "the EU constitutional treaty falls," which will be replaced by what he termed "a conventional amending treaty."

"Once you've decided to abandon the constitutional treaty, you go back to a conventional amending treaty," he said. He also said the EU leaders would continue to discuss with Polish leaders over the next few hours over their concerns about the voting rights. Blair also confirmed that the words of "competition is free and undistorted" concerning the EU market will be removed in a future EU treaty, which will retain the words of "internal market." Germany, which holds the EU presidency until the end of this month, had proposed in an outline of the new reform treaty that the EU should offer "its citizens a space of liberty, security and justice without internal borders and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted."

However, he stressed that "the belief in free market remains" and "the legal basis for the internal market remains." It has not been changed," he added. "There will be a protocol in a new treaty that makes it crystal clear that the legal basis of the Rome Treaty remains exactly the same. The European Union is exactly the same," he said. On Friday, the EU leaders managed to reach one agreement -- on setting up a new post of foreign policy chief for the 27-nation bloc, but fell short of calling it foreign minister. Diplomats said that EU leaders had reached a broad agreement on the role and powers of the new post. The title would be High Representative of the European Union for foreign policy, defense and security, instead of the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The new foreign policy chief will take over the jobs from present foreign policy chief Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Solana, who is formally called High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, mainly deal with crisis management, while Ferrero-Waldner takes charge of the EU's foreign aid budget. The deal was achieved after Britain, concerned about losing control in international affairs, dropped its opposition. It was the first success at the EU summit, which kicked off on Thursday.

Germany, which holds the EU rotating presidency, proposed in its road map for the new treaty to establish a "Union Minister for Foreign Affairs," but left it open to change the title. Diplomats said despite the failure to name the new post as foreign minister, its powers remain the same as envisaged by the constitutional treaty. The new foreign policy chief would chair meetings of the 27 EU foreign ministers and head a combined foreign service with both national and EU diplomats. (english.people.com)

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