European Union leaders tackle a series of regional and international issues Thursday and Friday and try to narrow their differences on a new EU constitution. The document is designed to facilitate decision-making within the bloc when it adds new member countries next year. The leaders will also discuss ways to kick-start Europe's flagging economy.
The main item on the EU summit's agenda is to discuss differences between large countries and small ones on what the EU constitution should contain. Italy, which holds the bloc's rotating presidency, is trying to push its partners into agreeing on a draft by the end of the year.
But key points remain unresolved. One dispute involves changing the EU's current voting rules to better reflect a country's population. Another is whether all 25 current and future member states should be represented on the EU's executive commission.
The head of the commission, which runs the EU's day-to-day affairs, is former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. He told reporters Wednesday that the timetable for approving the constitution should not be delayed and that member states should be willing to compromise.
"What is needed first and foremost is the political courage to take a limited number of decisions in the European and common interest," said Mr. Prodi. "It is important for Europe not to become bogged down in an institutional power struggle over the weeks to come."
Also on the agenda is how the European Union can re-launch economic growth and become more competitive. Mr. Prodi's European Commission has proposed spending tens of billions of dollars on Europe-wide public works and research projects. But he insists that only projects with a Pan-European dimension should be approved.
"Choosing which projects are priorities is not an easy task, but we have to put purely national and selfish considerations to one side and agree on a European priority list," he added. "I think we've spent too much time fighting for our little projects over the past few years, and the result of that is that we've fallen behind."
The EU leaders will also discuss the increasingly difficult Israeli-Palestinian situation and a looming deadline for Iran to come clean on its nuclear program. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to ask his colleagues to pledge money for Iraq's recovery at a donors' meeting in Madrid next week. But many EU countries that opposed the war there are reluctant to help pay the reconstruction bill if the United Nations is not given a bigger role in Iraq.
EU watchers have been fascinated by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's decision to skip the last day of the summit and ask French President Jacques Chirac to sit in for him while he dashes back to Berlin for a crucial parliamentary vote on economic reforms. Most observers see the unusual request as fresh evidence of resurgent ties between two countries that have frequently acted as the driving force of European integration. Others say it is only a show, because no major decisions on money or power will be made during Friday's session.