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EU Ministers Drafting Constitution - 2004-06-14

European Union foreign ministers are back to work on the text of a draft constitution to present to an EU summit later this week.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urged his colleagues to be flexible, saying a final deal is close.

There are several controversial parts of the draft constitution. Power to veto measures is a big issue. Britain has demanded guarantees to protect sovereignty in areas like taxation and social security. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the purpose of the constitution is to make the European Union more efficient and responsive.

There are also divisions among the 25 EU members on the voting system and whether to make a reference to God in the preamble.

Poland and Spain, which are medium-size nations, have been resisting an agreement on a system that would eliminate the oversized influence they currently have in voting.

All this comes against the backdrop of European Parliament elections this past weekend that produced a backlash against EU governments and support for EU skeptics. Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the elections revealed how little Europeans understand about the European Union. "I mean, it is something that people have been talking about all the time. How do we engage the public more?" said Mr. Cowen. "And the fact [is] that what happens here in the European Union affects their daily life. The problem, of course, is that with every European election in every country as far as I can see, they are often dealt with exclusively by national, domestic considerations."

Whatever the differences over the Constitution may be, Foreign Minister Cowen said the political credibility of the European Union is at stake, and it is important that there be a successful outcome at the summit at the end of the week. A similar effort six months ago failed to produce an agreement.