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Europe

European Convention Concludes Work

With agreements to maintain veto rights on issues dealing with immigration, labor markets, cultural trade and foreign policy, the European Convention completed its historic work of drafting a constitution on Thursday.

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Valery Giscard d'Estaing wraps up his work on Europe's first constitution.

After 18 months of work at the helm of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing became the first delegate to sign the completed draft of the European Union's first-ever constitution on Thursday.

The 105 members of the convention, representing 25 countries, have been working on the text with convention president d'Estaing and two vice-presidents for more than 16 months.

On Thursday, the president thanked his delegates and wrapped up his work. "I am proud to have been your president during this time and to have steered this ship", he told the delegates. Despite storms, frosty disputes and high waves en route, the convention had made it safely to port by producing and agreeing on a draft constitution.

In Brussels, there was a feeling of happiness and relief among delegates. "We can all be proud and thankful that we have been a part of this," said the German convention and European Parliament Member Klaus Haensch.

Various veto rights remain

Almost without exception, the delegates were open about the fact that they had fought for changes up to the very last minute. However, most of the delegates proved pleased with the number of concessions that were built in to the end draft.

"We wished for more, without any doubt, from a national standpoint," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who led his country's delegation. "But we weren't writing a national constitution, rather a European constitution. And in that respect this is an impressive achievement."

However, there were some issues over which countries failed to find unity. In the areas of foreign and tax policy, the veto right of member states will remain in place despite pressure from Germany to place those policy areas under the control of EU qualified majority voting. Eliminating the veto would have been politically impossible for Britain.

Germany succeeded in eliminating passages that would have placed control of immigration and labor market policies in the hands of Brussels.

And the French won the right to maintain its veto over trade decisions involving cultural products – like Hollywood films – that it maintains could threaten Europe's "linguistic and cultural diversity."

"Maximum achievement"

"The constitution offers the people of our European Union the best view yet of who, and with what democratic legitimacy, makes decisions in Brussels and Strasbourg," said Haensch.

Giscard d'Estaing said Thursday he considered the draft constitution a great success – a unified and balanced work – but that more unity would have been impossible.

"The consensus reached ... far from being the lowest common denominator, "represents the maximum that could be achieved," Giscard d'Estaing said.

He then appealed to politicians in Europe to push for the ratification of the treaty. "Citizens, say 'yes' to our constitution. Do not respond by saying no."

European official holiday

The constitution aims to simplify the EU tangled law-making procedures, make institutions more transparent and install a full-time president of the European Council and foreign minister, as well as allowing many more EU-wide policies to be approved with majority voting by the European Council.

Also entailed in the draft is an official motto of the EU, which will be "United in Diversity," an official EU song, which is to be Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and an official holiday on May 9 to celebrate European unity.

However, before implementation, the draft constitution still has some hurdles to clear. The final draft won't be completed until after an Intergovernmental Conference with current EU members and the 10 accession states, which takes place in October. During the conference, governments will have another opportunity to make revisions to the draft. But on Thursday, Giscard d'Estaing pled for restraint.

"Trying to change this consensus would run the risk of dislocating the whole thing, and historians might one day say that a great opportunity was missed," he said.

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