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Britain Calls for EU to Adopt Constitution - 2002-08-27

Britain is calling for the European Union to adopt a written constitution that would set the limits of power for the 15 nation group. The proposal is stirring debate in Britain.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the European Union needs a constitution to reassure Europeans that their national governments will remain what he called "the primary source of political legitimacy."

Mr. Straw issued his call in a speech Tuesday to the Scottish Chamber of Commerce in Edinburgh.

He said the constitution should lay out a simple set of principles written in plain language. The purpose, he said, should be to help reconnect European voters with the institutions that act in their name.

The Straw speech is the first time that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has explicitly called for an EU constitution.

There is deep public skepticism within Britain about the prospect of what is called "a federal Europe," in which decisions affecting Britain's national sovereignty would be taken at EU headquarters in Brussels.

In the latest poll on the matter, only 30 percent of Britons said that EU membership was a good thing for their country.

The opposition Conservative Party is criticizing the Straw initiative. The Conservative's foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, says Prime Minister Blair and Mr. Straw are opening the door to what he called "a European superstate."

"I think this is a clear indication that they have now caved in to the European integrationists, to the people who want to see full political union," said Mr. Ancram.

Mr. Straw is setting out on a national tour to play up the benefits of EU membership for Britain as the Blair government looks ahead to a referendum, perhaps next year, on joining the European single currency.