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Europe

Doubts About the Future Cloud Europe Day

European Union leaders marked Europe Day plagued by questions about where their 25-member club is headed after a series of stinging setbacks last year.

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Merkel outlined her plans for the German EU presidency in Berlin

A year into the "period of reflection" on Europe's future, announced after French and Dutch voters rejected the EU Constitution and plunged the EU into its worst-ever crisis, leaders tentatively raised their heads from the trenches to offer suggestions about which way to turn.

With polls showing widespread public disenchantment, European Commission President Jose Barroso urged member states to speak out in favor of the European project to show that the EU is addressing citizens' concerns.

"We need the leadership at all levels of our member states," Barroso told a joint sitting of EU assemblies at the European Parliament. "We all have a responsibility ... if we believe in Europe to make the case for Europe."

Co n stitutio n n ot o n Germa n 2007 preside n cy age n da

Frankreich Referendum über die EU-Verfassung: Ja oder Nein?

French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution last year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, urged caution, and said the time was not ripe for a European constitution, as the bloc marked the 56th Europe Day.

"We should not rush things," she said. "We should instead wait for the right moment to act."

Merkel insisted the EU still needed a constitution but said Berlin would use its EU presidency in the first half of 2007 to push for a common EU energy policy and cut Brussels' red tape.

"Europe is not good enough, there is no question," she said in Berlin.

The German leader is due to set out her thoughts on the future of Europe in a keynote speech on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Barroso will present proposals on how to take Europe forward; suggestions that will be put to EU leaders at their summit next month.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, warned leaders to "take the anguish of Europeans" seriously.

Europa Tag in Brüssel - Barroso und Schüssel

Barroso, left, and Schüssel want the EU to become closer to its citizens

"If we don't succeed, it would be difficult to relaunch the constitutional process," which he said had been "the most successful attempt in recent years to improve the lot of Europeans."

Expa n sio n questio n s also remai n

With many citizens concerned about endless expansion, Merkel added that it is important for the Union to draw its borders and not take in new members before it can properly integrate existing ones.

"We should try to keep our promises but at the same time we should be able to say to certain countries that their adhesion is not possible in the foreseeable future," she said.

Bulgaria and Romania, meanwhile, were still waiting for the commission to decide whether they can join the EU as planned on Jan. 1, 2007, amid speculation that one or both may have to wait an extra year.

Europa Tag - Eifelturm blau angestrahlt

The Eiffel Tower shows blue lighting to mark Europe Day

Elsewhere in the EU, events were scheduled to commemorate May 9, 1950, when French foreign minister Robert Schuman urged European nations to pool their coal and steel production, a new base on which to build European integration.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was decked out in blue to mark the occasion and a special Eurostar train decked out in the European flag left for London, while concerts, special movies and other events were planned around the country.

Several capitals took part in the "Cafe d'Europe" initiative, aimed at showcasing Europe's cultural and culinary diversity as well as hosting debates about where the bloc should be heading.

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