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Europe

EU Foreign Ministers Make Progress on Constitution

European Union foreign ministers Monday edged closer to conciliation on voting issues dogging passage of an EU constitution. But the role of Christianity still blocks agreement.

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Voting powers remain contentious

Though the ministers left Brussels without any final agreement, they said they had made way on the key question of voting powers, one of the issues preventing the EU Constitution from being made reality.

"Our continuing discussions see a consensus on that issue broadening," Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters.

The draft document foresees that a double majority of 50 percent of EU states representing at least 60 percent of the total population can decide votes in the EU Council of Ministers. But countries such as Spain and Poland have rejected the plan as giving too much weight to larger states. For their part, Germany, France and Britain are trying to stick as close as possible to the draft proposal.

"Everyone was willing to move to a double majority, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. "There were different views on the figures…We won't accept anything nonsensical, but today's discussion was within reasonable bands."

Religion divisive

None of the member states have budged on the role Christianity should play in the Constitution. The Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia had just before the session sent a letter to the Irish EU presidency calling for the meeting to address the hotly debated issue.

"The amendment we ask for is aimed to recognize a historical truth," the foreign ministers from mainly Roman Catholic countries wrote. "We do not want to disregard either the secular nature (of the EU) … or the respect of any other religious or philosophical belief."

The current draft refers to Europe's "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance."

France and Belgium, where church and state are strictly kept separate, have been the most vociferous opponents to mentioning religion in the document.

The Irish EU presidency aims to propose compromises on the remaining issues hindering adoption of the Constitution shortly before the next EU summit on June 17-18.

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