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EU Summit Agrees on Reform Plan - 2001-12-15

European Union leaders have concluded a two-day summit near Brussels by agreeing on a year-long effort that will suggest how the bloc should change its institutions and working methods to accommodate the entry of up to ten new members over the next few years. The hope is that the 15-nation EU will become more efficient and that its decision-making will become more democratic.

The EU leaders named former French president Valery Giscard D'Estaing to head the convention, which will debate a whole range of issues related to the future of European integration.

Many EU citizens want the Union to become less bureaucratic and more transparent and relevant to their daily lives. The convention is supposed to touch base with a cross-section of European society as it forges recommendations for EU reform that will later be submitted to member governments.

There has always been a debate within the Union on whether it should move toward a more federal structure, with its own constitution, or remain a primarily economic group with political power staying in the hands of member nations.

The summit's Belgian hosts had to back off an ambitious draft proposal calling for more European federalism after Britain, France, Denmark and Sweden objected. So the final declaration promised not to create a European super-state.

But Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt refused to back down entirely. He said the summit's declaration recognizes that the people of Europe will need to have their own European constitution in the future.

Representatives of aspiring members of the bloc will also take part in the convention, and the EU leaders told 10 of the 13 countries lining up to join the EU that they have a good chance to get in by the year 2004 if they make progress on meeting EU standards.

There is disappointment, however, among some EU members, that they were unable to get Greece to agree to a deal between the Union and NATO ally Turkey that the EU's new defense arm can have access to NATO military assets as long as Turkey is consulted on potential EU operations that affect its interests.

After four hours of wrangling, the leaders were also unable to agree on which countries should host several new EU agencies. So those decisions have been postponed until next year.

One thing the EU leaders decided to shy away from was a warning to the United States that it should not embark on a wider war against terrorism beyond Afghanistan without international backing. Diplomats say Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain objected so strongly to a draft statement on the subject that it was dropped from the summit's conclusions.