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Europe

Germany Calls for Changes in EU Constitution Draft

At a follow-up round of negotiations in Brussels, Germany's foreign minister called on the convention drafting the European Union's first constitution to preserve national veto powers on immigration issues.

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Germany is calling for a few "corrections" to the EU's draft constitution.

Only two weeks after its presentation at an EU summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, the debate over provisions in the draft European constitution has broken out again in Brussels.

Before delivering the draft to EU leaders, European Convention President Valery Giscard D'Estaing set out a handful of additional negotiations on contentious issues like majority rule on immigration issues and other policy areas. So far, more than 1,700 amendments have been submitted to the convention for discussion this month.

The German government's "corrections" are among them. Leading the list of changes Berlin wants implemented is language that would permit decisions on immigration and asylum policy to be made by a qualified majority decision in Brussels. On Friday, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer repeated his government's demand that it be permitted to retain veto power on such decisions.

"The question of immigration policy remains a particularly sensitive domestic issue" for Germany, Fischer told the convention. He said the majority rules provision in the constitution was unacceptable to the German government. Before EU countries can rule on immigration policies by majority vote, he said, they must first agree to common foundations for immigration. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Interior Minister Otto Schilly and the opposition Christian Democratic Union have all rejected EU majority decisions on immigration policy.

Germany's resistance has been fueled by its own domestic paralysis over the issue. The country's first-ever immigration bill was recently rejected in the Bundesrat, the country's upper legislative chamber, and the government and opposition parties are still seeking a compromise.

Support for majority votes on some policies

But in a number of other areas, Germany has championed the use of the qualified majority voting in decision-making, including the areas of foreign and security policy.

On Friday, Germany called for foundations to be laid in the constitution for EU justice and domestic policies that would allow for the creation of a European border police and a European prosecutor.

The convention presidency has said it wants to retain veto power in the constitution for tax policy – especially indirect taxes that are necessary for the development of the internal market. Britain supports this decision, but Germany says majority votes should be used for such policy-making.

Though Germany supports majority voting on foreign policy decisions, it is unlikely the veto right of member states will be replaced given Britain's insistence that London still control the country's tax and foreign policy goals.

But on Friday, Germany's Fischer proposed a compromise that would -- in principle -- require unanimous decision-making on foreign policy. The compromise did offer one major loophole: It would permit qualified majority voting on actions or positions tabled by the European Foreign Minister, a position whose creation the draft constitution calls for. Qualified majority voting requires that more than half of the EU's member states, representing 60 percent of the EU population, approve an issue.

Two more convention sessions are planned next Wednesday and Thursday to finalize negotiations over the draft constitution. Giscard delivered the vast majority of the document at the meeting of European heads of states and governments in Greece on June 20. The draft was greeted unanimously by EU leaders, and the final text of the document is to be hammered out at an intergovernmental conference slated to convene in October. EU leaders hope to approve the final constitution at a summit scheduled in Rome next December.

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