EU foreign ministers have met in Brussels in an attempt to narrow differences on a draft constitution for the bloc, aimed at facilitating decision-making in the years ahead, but there are few signs of progress on key issues holding up approval of the draft, even though the EU Irish presidency says the negotiations are on track.
Once again, the major obstacle to a deal is the issue of how much voting weight each one of the 25 EU members will have under the constitution.
Last December, Spain and Poland, which gained disproportionate influence in EU councils under a treaty drawn up in 2000, refused to accept the constitutional draft because it would reduce their voting weight.
The draft calls for most EU decisions to be made by more than 50 percent of the member states as long as they represent more than 60 percent of the bloc's 455 million people.
Ireland, which holds the EU rotating presidency, has suggested increasing the number of countries and the proportion of the population in order to get Spanish and Polish approval for the constitution at an EU summit next month, but Poland's foreign minister says that proposal does not go far enough.
Poland and Spain fear that the document, which was drawn up by a constitutional convention, gives big countries like Germany, France and Britain too much power.
The European Union operates on consensus, with all members needing to agree on all issues, but that is seen as impractical now that the bloc has expanded to 25 member states.
Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen is calling for more flexibility from all sides. ?Ideally, people would like to have just a simple system, where it was 50-60 as per the convention and that is the end of it,? he said. ?The political real world is that you don't have a consensus on that. There won't be a consensus on that and people have to move.?
Mr. Cowen added that he understands both the need to speed up decision-making by extending majority voting to more EU issues and the concerns of those countries that will have less say than they do under the current system.
?Of course, we want a more efficient, effective decision-making process,? he noted. ?We also require another criteria, one that will meet with political agreement and we need to insure, when we move to a new system, that sensitivities are addressed for those countries who see a change as creating a new set of circumstances for them.?
Italy, Poland, and five other countries have re-introduced a demand that the draft constitution's preamble make a reference to God and Christian values, a move that is strongly opposed by secular France.
Also unresolved is Britain's insistence that individual countries be able to veto EU moves to harmonize taxes and social security policies. France and Germany argue that such vetoes would paralyze EU decision-making.