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Europe

Chancellor Calls for Unity on European Constitution

Hard bargaining is expected to mark negotiations on the shape of a new European constitution, starting next month. But in announcing the final draft, Schröder pleaded for acceptance.

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Valery Giscard d'Estaing (left) and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are standing behind a draft EU constitution.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warned critics among the EU countries not to endanger the adoption of a planned EU constitution by demanding too many changes to the current draft.

"Anyone who wants to change the draft has to ask himself if, after the package gets opened, it can be put back together. And when it is put back together, whether it is better afterward. We don't think it will be," Schröder said on Tuesday in Berlin, following a meeting with European Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

An open-ended intergovernmental conference for negotiating the future of Europe is slated to begin on October 4. Yet Schröder said he hopes that by the end of December the conference will ratify the draft--as is.

To achieve this, Germany has decided not to demand any changes, Schröder said. "This is why we aren't talking about changes that we may possibly want," he stated.

Schröder's comments came in reaction to the most recent demands of other EU members, some of whom have said they would fight aspects of the draft constitution.

For instance, Poland warned Tuesday that it will use the October negotiations to fight for its existing voting rights.

At the EU summit in Nice three years ago, Poland, which has a population of 39 million, was promised 27 votes in the EU council of ministers, the same number as Spain and only two fewer than population heavyweights France and Germany. Under the new draft treaty, this would change.

Aiming to streamline EU institutions and prevent decision-making gridlock when the 15-member bloc takes in another 10 mostly ex-communist states in May, the new constitution will alter the way decisions are reached by EU ministers, and will distribute decision-making power based on the relative populations of member states.

"We are open to discussion of all issues but I shall not hide that as far as the distribution of votes is concerned I do not see any possibility of a change in the Polish position," Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Agence France Press at a news conference.

Brits warn changes needed

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also made clear that he is only willing to go so far in support of the new document.

In a foreword to a White Paper released on Tuesday giving the U.K.'s formal response to the draft treaty, Blair wrote that the existing text is "not perfect," and there are "red lines" which the U.K. will not accept in a final treaty. He made clear that he would not agree to anything that removed the power of Britain to determine its own tax, defense and foreign policy.

Nevertheless, Blair backed up the treaty against British opposition politicians who criticized it. After negotiations, the constitution would result in a more effective European Union which promotes "the national and patriotic interest," Blair wrote.

The plan was criticized by Conservatives in the British government for giving too much power to a federal European government. They have demanded a referendum on the issue.

Yet Blair dismissed the arguments for a referendum, insisiting the treaty would not create a "superstate."

For his part, Giscard stressed that the draft was an integrated document and that single pieces can't be taken out of it. The document represents the best possible compromise between all parties, he said.

"I think we have achieved that which could be achieved," Giscard said.