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EU:  No Decision on Balance of Power After Expansion


European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have engaged in hard bargaining, but apparently reached no decision on where the balance of power should lie in the bloc after it expands from 15 to 25 members next year. The two-day summit has now moved on to discussing how best to boost the continent's stagnant economy and to international issues like Iran and the Middle East.

Italian officials, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, say that most differences among current and future member states over what a draft constitution should contain have been narrowed. But they say there has been no progress on two of the most contentious issues.

Those are whether every country should be represented on the European Commission, which runs the bloc's day-to-day affairs, and whether each country's voting rights should reflect its population.

Small countries, led by Austria and Finland, insist on having a commissioner in Brussels to represent their interests, even though a 25-member body would make decision making more unwieldy.

Spain and Poland are dead set against changing a three-year-old voting arrangement whereby they have nearly as many votes as Germany, which has twice their population.

Pat Cox, the Irishman who presides over the European parliament, told reporters he warned the leaders against striking any unseemly deals aimed at clinching an agreement on the constitutional draft, which the Italians want approved by the end of the year.

"I hope we avoid a kind of middle of the night, under the counter deal at the end of this business where someone lost something so they show up with so many more parliamentarians on their radar screen but with no obvious rationality and balance between states," he said.

Mr. Cox is referring to reports that Spain, Poland and the small countries that may be left without a commissioner might be satisfied by being given a few more seats in the European Parliament.

The draft constitution calls for decisions to be made by a majority of countries representing 60 percent of the EU's population. But with Spain and Poland adamant about holding on to their disproportionate voting rights, some diplomats are suggesting that the threshold be boosted from 60 to 66 percent. Mr. Cox says that would give the two holdouts the power to block decisions.

The constitutional debate was overshadowed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's announcement in Brussels that his country, France and Russia would vote for a new U.S.-sponsored resolution on Iraq that was approved later in the day by the United Nations Security Council. But Mr. Schroeder made it clear the three countries would not commit troops nor pledge any more aid to the war-torn country.

"The resolution is a step in the right direction, but the progress in our view is still not an adequate response to the situation on the ground in Iraq, and, on these grounds we do not see ourselves in a position to play a military role there, or to make a further material contribution beyond what has already been agreed," he said.

The EU has pledged $230 million in aid to Iraq, but German officials say their country will not add to that figure at a donors' conference next week in Madrid.

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