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Former French President to Head EU Reform Convention - 2001-12-15

European Union leaders, wrapping up a two-day summit in a Brussels suburb, have chosen a former French president to head a year-long convention that will make recommendations on reforming EU institutions to accommodate up to 10 new members in the years ahead.

The EU leaders are now meeting with their colleagues from the countries that aspire to join the bloc, to spur them into making reforms before they can become members.

The EU leaders named former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to head the 62-member convention that is tasked with fine tuning ideas aimed at making EU institutions more relevant to the 15-nation bloc's citizens.

The convention will be made up of representatives from national governments, the European Commission the EU's executive arm and members of national parliaments and the European Parliament.

Many EU citizens hope the convention will come up with recommendations to make European institutions less bureaucratic and more democratic and transparent.

In a document dubbed the Laeken Declaration, for the royal palace where the summit is taking place, the leaders agree not to create a European super-state.

That idea is anathema to such countries as Britain, Denmark and Sweden. Proposals by Belgium, the EU's current president, for the declaration and the agenda to be discussed by the convention were watered down after being criticized as "too federalist."

Still, the document does leave open to future debate whether the EU should have a constitution and a bill of rights.

The EU leaders face a jam-packed agenda as they try to wrap up their summit. Amid the idealistic pronouncements about the EU's future, there is a lot of bargaining going on about which countries should host several new EU institutions, among them a food safety agency and a maritime safety agency.

One item they have not been able to solve is how their new defense arm, the European Rapid Reaction Force, is going to be able to get access to NATO planning and intelligence resources.

That is because Greece is objecting to a deal between the EU and Turkey, which is a member of NATO, but not yet of the EU, that would give Ankara a voice in potential EU military operations in the Aegean Sea, or near Cyprus.

On Friday, there was a mix up when Belgium announced the creation of an EU peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. Other countries made it clear that the force would be a multinational one under United Nations auspices to which EU countries would contribute, but that it would not be an EU operation.