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Britain Blasts Economic Provisions of Proposed EU Constitution - 2003-11-04

Britain says the proposed European Union constitution could undermine economic policy control for each country's government. The issue is under discussion as European finance ministers meet in Brussels.

British Finance Minister Gordon Brown says he is worried that the draft EU constitution would strip member states of the ability to make key economic decisions. Mr. Brown told British radio he will raise the issue with European colleagues meeting in Brussels Tuesday.

"I think it is very important that in the new constitution we rule out both tax harmonization and the idea of a federal fiscal policy, because it bears no relationship to the needs of Europe facing global competition," the finance minister said.

Mr. Brown said European countries will lose money and jobs to international competitors if the proposed constitution is not changed.

"If we are not flexible, if we are not open, if we are not outward looking, if we are not reforming, and therefore if we are not explicit in ruling out measures that are inflexible such as I am mentioning today," said Mr. Brown, "then I believe that the global Europe that we are having to deal with will not be able to withstand the global competition, and therefore we will still have the low growth, the low productivity, and of course the high unemployment, 14 million unemployed, that Europe has today."

Mr. Brown's comments are likely to be seized upon by the opposition Conservative party, which is generally skeptical of Britain developing stronger ties with the European Union.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ruled out the Conservatives' demand that the constitution, when finished, be voted on by the British public in a referendum. Mr. Blair wants the constitution ratified in Parliament, where his Labor party holds a big majority. EU officials want the new constitution to take effect in 2006.