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Europe

Britain Offers to Help Limit Damage to EU

One day after Britian announed plans to suspend a referendum on the European Union constitution, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said parts of the charter could be introduced in Britain without a popular vote.

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Jack Straw and Tony Blair are united in trying to keep the EU calm

Straw's words were a bid to bolster efforts by Prime Minister Tony Blair to calm a political storm sweeping over Europe in light of the French and the Dutch voting against ratifying the constitution. He said that the decision for Britain to hold off on staging its own referendum did not mean the charter was dead.

Speaking on BBC radio, Straw also tried to appease opponents of the constitution who have warned that EU leaders may try to cherry-pick sections of the treaty and sneak them in surreptitiously.

"There will be no introduction of this constitutional treaty, or indeed of anything that looks like a constitutional treaty, by the back door," he said. "That could only come in the UK by a full debate and by a referendum."

Symbolbild, EU, Fahne, Flagge, Hände, Hand

The future of Europe lays in its own hands

But he said some proposals such as one to give national parliaments more say over EU decisions and another to base a member state's voting power on its population, could be implemented without a plebiscite. He stressed that neither proposal had been rejected by Britain's various political parties.

Popular vote not entirely necessary

"It would be absurd, if we could find a way of strengthening the role of the British House of Commons over EU legislation, to say that had to go to a referendum," he said.

"The voting system will have to be changed at some stage because the Nice (Treaty) formula will have to be changed," Straw added. "I don't think anyone would suggest that if we were able to secure that change -- it could actually happen in an accession treaty, or be tacked onto one -- that that should go to a referendum."

Straw said that more momentous changes, such as the creation of a European foreign minister, would still have to be included in a constitutional treaty and subject to a referendum. Straw told parliament Monday that his government was shelving plans for now on a referendum until the dust had settled on the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the constitution last week.

European trauma

Auch die Niederlande lehnen EU-Verfassung ab

Dutch voters were not backward about coming forward with their No

He acknowledged that the French and Dutch votes had created a "real problem" for the EU and been "deeply traumatic" for its six founder members.

But he said that Britain could not single-handedly declare the constitution dead, adding that such a conclusion could only be arrived at by the EU as a whole. It is "conceivable" that Britain's referendum could be resurrected if circumstances change, he added.

Speaking to the Financial Times newspaper on Monday before he flew to Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the constitution's rejection by French and Dutch voters as an "opportunity" to set Europe on a clear path towards a future that everyone can embrace.

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