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EU Constitutional Convention Ends - 2003-07-10


The convention charged with drafting the European Union's first-ever constitution has come to a formal close, with its chairman urging EU leaders to keep the document intact when they meet to discuss it in Italy next October. It is now up to the leaders to decide how much power will remain with national governments and how much will be transferred to European institutions.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who chaired the constitutional convention, says the 240-page draft represents what he calls the maximum that could be achieved.

But the document is incomplete because delegates were unable to come to a consensus on whether such crucial issues as taxation, immigration and, especially, foreign policy, should be decided by a majority of the EU's member states or remain subject to veto by individual governments.

Those issues are to be addressed by EU leaders in the months ahead. If they can come to an agreement, the constitution will then be subject to ratification by the parliaments of all of the member states as well as the European Parliament. The goal of the framers is that it should take effect by the end of 2005.

The objective behind the constitution is to streamline decision-making when the EU expands from 15 to 25 members next year. It calls for a long-term EU president to replace the current procedure, whereby the presidency rotates from country to country every six months.

It also calls for an EU foreign minister and an EU diplomatic service. And it expands the number of issues on which EU decisions can be made by majority vote.

In the last round of haggling this week, Germany won a battle for a clause spelling out members' rights to impose quotas on migrant labor from non-EU countries. And France preserved its right to protect its entertainment industry from an onslaught of Hollywood films and television programs.

Many delegates criticized the draft for subjugating national sovereignty to European institutions. Danish euro-skeptic Jens-Peter Bonde calls the document a recipe for a European superstate. He wants it to be submitted to a popular referendum in all EU nations.

But most defended the draft as good for Europe. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called it a compromise that will make a 25-member EU function efficiently and more transparently.

The really hard bargaining lies ahead, when national leaders get together to thrash out their differences. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, has warned that he will block any transfer of Britain's right to set its own foreign policy, taxation laws or immigration regulations to the European Union.

Smaller countries generally feel that enhanced majority voting and an end to the rotating presidency will cement domination of the EU by big countries and leave them on the sidelines.

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