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Europe

European Leaders Agree on Constitution

After more than a year of back and forth, European leaders approved the constitution that will serve as the blueprint for the future direction of the EU.

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The document can take effect in 2006 at the earliest

European leaders managed to find enough common ground to approve the text of Europe's first-ever constitution late on Friday night.

The leaders did put off naming a new president of the Executive Commission to replace outgoing European Commission President Romano Prodi. The differences on the decision underscored tensions between Britain, France and Germany that remain on the future course of the EU.

"No candidate has emerged yet, but last night there were about 10 names around, so it's not so unusual when there are so many candidates around that none of them has sufficient support," said Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, who holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of the month. He added that he hoped to convene a special meeting within the next two weeks to resolve the question of who would become the next EU Commission president.

Jean-Claude Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker

Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt, who had been France and Germany's candidate for the position, wirthdrew himself as a candidate on Friday. EU's External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten, a conservative Brit who is supported by the European People's Party, the largest political bloc in the European Parliament, also dropped out. Luxembourg's Premier Jean-Claude Juncker (photo), who is considered to be a candidate that could be accepted by everyone, continues to say that he's not interested in the position.

"Historic decision"

Common ground was finally found on the constitution, however. The group of 25 EU member state leaders reached a consensus on the stickiest issue: the amount of votes member states would get in the Council of Ministers. Under the new proposal, submitted by the Irish presidency, at least 15 member states representing 65 percent of the EU's population will have to support decision for them to take effect. In order to block proposals, at least four states representing 35 percent of the population will have to come join forces.

EU Gipfel in Brüssel Familienfoto

European Familiy Picture: Heads of state and government say "cheese" after agreeing on an EU constitution

Spain, who together with Poland put up vehement opposition to the previous voting system, said it was satisfied with the final text. Poland apparently pulled back a last-minute protest over the fact that God was not mentioned in the constitution's preamble.

Germany satisfied with outcome

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was very satisfied with the outcome, calling it "a historic decision" for Europe. "I believe one can say that, all in all, it is legitimate to be pleased," he added.

German negotiators were able to get a line in the constitution that allowed the EU only to take over decisions that they can decide on better than member states. It was part of their push to get EU decision-making in the areas of domestic and justice policies, foreign policy, economic policy and finance policy, to be simplified.

Britain initially protested those suggestions, demanding that it retain its so-called "red line" veto.

Germany also succeeded in pushing through its demands vis-a-vis the Stability and Growth Pact, the accord that ensures the security of the euro. Under the compromise, EU finance ministers would have the ability to stop the European Commission from taking legal action against countries that violate the pact's 3 percent deficit spending ceiling by a qualified majority vote.

The Irish presidency set the cooperative tone earlier this week with the battle cry: failure is not an option. The constitution has been held in a state of purgatory since it was outright rejected by Spain and Poland in December.

A second failure would have made it difficult for further European unity and legislation, since the constitution was drafted with enlargement in mind, and it would have further alienated Brussels from Europe's citizens.

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