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EU Constitution Committee Discusses Institutional Reforms - 2003-06-06

The committee that is drafting a new constitution for the European Union appears to have reached what its chairman calls a basis for a consensus on how to reform the 15-nation bloc's institutions before it expands to 25 members next year.

The former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who heads the convention, told reporters between meetings Friday that his proposal has what he called significant support among the 105 members of the body.

Mr. Giscard d'Estaing was huddling Friday with different groups in the convention to try to gain their backing for his final draft.

The former French leader did not disclose what his proposal contains, but two members of the European parliament who sit in the convention said it includes the creation of a long-term president of the European Council, the supreme body of EU national leaders.

That post would replace the current system in which the presidency rotates among the EU's member states every six months.

If Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's proposal is approved, it will sit well with Europe's bigger countries. But smaller nations, and the European Commission, which runs the bloc's day-to-day affairs, have opposed it, saying it would upset the union's delicate balance of power.

One convention member, Elmar Brok, says the European Council president's powers would be limited. Mr. Brok, a conservative member of the European Parliament from Germany, says the Council president would not be able to interfere with the work of the European Commission. But he did not rule out a compromise whereby the presidency of the Council and the presidency of the Commission could eventually be held by the same person.

Two other reforms Mr. Giscard d'Estaing is insisting upon are limiting the number of commissioners and changing the way European leaders make decisions affecting the Union.

One of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's aides says a compromise is emerging in which the Commission would have no more than 15 members, but only after 2009. That would allow the 10 countries joining the Union next year to have a seat on the commission during their first five years as members.

Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has insisted that, if a decision is supported by at least half of the member states representing at least 60 percent of the EU's population, it should be adopted and become part of the union's body of laws and regulations.

But diplomats caution that, although a consensus may be emerging at the convention on all of these issues, it has by no means been reached as yet.