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Europe

Future of Europe's Diplomatic Face Entwined with Constitution

The shape of European foreign policy following the passage of the European Union's constitution in the coming year tops the agenda of foreign ministers, who gather in Naples on Friday.

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The EU family portrait: is there room for all those opinions?

A last-minute Italian proposal to give a future European Union foreign minister more power was dismissively shot down by Great Britain ahead of the meeting.

Foreign Minister Jack Straw told British parliamentarians Thursday that "we will resist" the proposal that would introduce a majority voting scheme on foreign policy decisions made by the European Union.

Great Britain, followed by France, is the fiercest opponent of plans by more federalist states like Germany and Greece to create a strong EU foreign minister position. The majority vote proposal would replace the current unanimous vote on EU foreign policy decisions, effectively removing national vetoes. London does not want the EU making foreign policy decisions on its behalf.

Much ado about a constitution

The tussle is one of many confronting the 25 governments of the expanded European Union two weeks ahead of an important summit in Brussels. There, heads of European governments hope to pass the heavily-discussed draft of the document that will plot the course of an expanded Europe at the December summit.

Small and new member nations are fighting against bigger countries for more seats on the policy-initiating European Commission. Secular countries have been pitted against religious ones on whether to mention God in the preamble to the constitution, and now the power of the future EU foreign minister has boiled to the top.

"It's not normal that we have a government conference where in every sitting, more questions arise than are solved," an exasperated EU Commissioner for Expansion Günter Verheugen told the European Parliament this week.

Mikado-like waiting game

Countries from Germany to EU newlings Poland or Lithuania have proposed 90 amendments or changes to the constitution. The European secretary in Germany's Chancellor's office, Martin Bury, has called the standoff a Mikado-like game of waiting until the other side gives in.

But alliances between countries like Spain and Poland or France and Germany in the past weeks and months are sure to set up some spectacular roadblocks to compromise.

Spain and Poland, awarded a large voting share disproportionate to the size of their countries by an earlier EU treaty, are fighting against France and Germany, who want that share taken away under the new constitution.

Smaller nations, like Austria, are fighting rigorously to make sure their voice is heard in the expanded Europe. The current draft calls for the seats on the European Commission to be increased to 25 – one for each country – but would give only 15 voting powers.

Hope for foreign policy, clouds on the horizon

European politicians are hoping that the two-day conference will at the very least iron out loose threads in the foreign policy arena. At the moment, Europe has two officials who speak on foreign affairs topics but wield no real power. The constitution wants to merge the two into one minister who will give an expanded Europe more political weight in foreign policy questions.

"The important thing is that the key questions in foreign policy are solved in Naples," Elmar Brok, European parliamentarian, told the German daily Die Welt. "The European Foreign Minister post will need to be specified ... without limitations."

There is another cloud looming on the horizon. Should government leaders agree on the constitution, it will need to be ratified by their countries. In some cases, that means putting it before a vote of the people.

"In those places that are holding referendums – Denmark, Ireland and some of the middle European countries – the danger (of failing ratification) is especially big," said Brok. "Because unfortunately in referendums other things tend to play a role instead of the actual topic itself."

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