EU Leaders Want Constitution Deal By June | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.03.2004
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EU Leaders Want Constitution Deal By June

Acting out of a new sense of unity following the Madrid bombings, EU leaders have set a June deadline to agree a constitution for the bloc. At their summit in Brussels, they also boosted joint action against terrorism.


They're both happy.

The leaders of the 25 current and future European Union states seemed determined to move forward together as they tackled the issues on their agenda. They agreed to revive stalled negotiations on an EU constitution, signaled greater cooperation on security issues with the appointment of the EU's first counter-terrorism coordinator, and promised to implement a catalogue of economic reforms agreed in 2000.

In an effort to defuse a looming diplomatic conflict, EU leaders also pledged to accommodate any peace deal to reunite the Mediterranean island state of Cyprus before it and nine other mainly eastern European states join the bloc on May 1.

Constitution deadline

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, who currently holds the rotating EU Council presidency, said his colleagues had agreed to wrap up talks on a first constitution for the enlarged bloc by their next summit on June 17 and 18.

EU Commission President Romano Prodi and EU Parliament President Pat Cox said they hoped a compromise could be reached before elections for the European Parliament from June 10 to June 13. According to news reports, some states including France worry that constitution talks before the election might cause a "eurosceptic backlash from voters.

Negotiations over the proposed constitution stalled last December after both Spain and Poland insisted on more voting rights than guaranteed in the document. They wanted to stick to a system set up in Nice in 2000, giving them almost as much weight as much more populous countries such as Germany.

Under the proposed constitution's so-called "double majority" system, matters will have to be approved by 50 percent of member states as well as 60 percent of the union's population, hence considering population differences. One compromise that's already been suggested would require approval of 55 percent in both cases. Both Germany and France have been insisting on a double majority voting system.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Spanien

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

A compromise became possible after Spain's incoming premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (photo) reversed his predecessor's position and said he'd be willing to negotiate. That prompted Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller to reconsider his country's opposition as well.

During a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Tuesday, Poland signalled its readiness to return to the negotiating table. Poland's Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on Thursday reiterated his government's change of heart, saying that Poland did not rule out "the possibility of a compromise based on the double majority." Making the EU safer

In the wake of the March 11 bomb attacks on Spain, EU leaders swiftly agreed on measures to improve the safety of all Europeans. They pledged to implement by June measures already agreed on, such as the Europe-wide arrest warrant, and joint investigation teams. They also endorsed the appointment of the bloc's first counter-terrorism coordinator, former Dutch deputy interior minister Gijs de Vries.

However, there was disagreement over the extent of his mandate. While some reports have billed de Vries as the EU's "anti-terror czar", his role is mainly intended to cut through the red tape of the EU's complex institutions to ensure smoother cooperation between Brussels and the member states. "The powers currently planned for the anti-terror coordinator are absolutely insufficient," said Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker.

Economic reforms

Talk of anti-terrorism measures dominated the Brussels summit until the final day, when EU leaders turned their attention to a catalogue of economic reforms agreed four years ago with the aim of turning the bloc into the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

However, the only new initiative was to charge former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok with reviewing the sluggish performance on implementing the reforms, and coming up with suggestions on how to re-start the process.

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