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Europe

Germany, Poland Reach Breakthrough on EU Constitution

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller broke an impasse over the EU constitution during a meeting in Warsaw on Tuesday, saying that a deal could be reached by the end of June.

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The leaders of Poland and Germany found common ground.

EU constitution talks, which have been mired in deadlock for the past three months over country voting rights, might finally be regaining momentum. On Tuesday, Schröder and Miller indicated that they were willing bury their differences on the draft text and work together to hammer out a deal.

"I am very happy that we agree that the creation of the constitution, which is already in full swing, should be finished during the Irish presidency (in the first half of 2004)," Schröder told a joint news conference after a lunch with Miller at the Polish prime minister's home.

Miller, whose country is the largest among ten new mainly former communist countries poised to join the EU on May 1, played a key role in blocking a deal on the charter last December. But with Schröder he signaled that Warsaw had climbed down from its earlier entrenched stance.

"In our talks with the Chancellor, we discussed various ways of reaching a compromise … We believe that a compromise is not only necessary but also possible," Miller said.

Row laid to rest

The breakthrough on Tuesday brings to an end a simmering dispute on the constitution that pitted Poland and Spain against Germany and France over the controversial issue of voting rights.

Germany and France, supported by most EU members, backed laws that would require the support of at least 50 percent of EU member states representing at least 60 percent of the bloc's population. But Spain and Poland objected that the proposed constitution would curb their countries' voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers and insisted instead on sticking to the preferential voting weights agreed at the Nice summit in 2000 which benefited medium-sized countries.

Poland follows Spanish example

But, in recent weeks, Poland had feared becoming isolated on the issue and signaled an easing of its once entrenched stance. The change followed a reverse of policy from the new incoming Socialist government in Spain, which has pledged to work towards reaching a quick compromise on the stalled constitution.

Ministerpräsident Leszek Miller Polen

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller

Last week Miller (photo) told journalists in Brussels he did not want his country left alone after Spain's change of tack on the EU constitution and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski too asserted that there was now room for compromise for a constitution deal.

This week, the Poles stepped up their conciliatory tone. "I see some ground for optimism because at least some of the concepts being unofficially suggested or consulted seem to be a good basis for compromise," Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said at an EU foreign minister summit on Monday.

Poland to move away from Nice

Warsaw's new change of heart had raised hopes that a deal on the constitution may now be within reach and Schröder's visit was expected to sound out the chances for success.

Speaking on Tuesday, Schröder said he welcomed the fact that "Poland is really ready to take responsibility for the expansion of the bloc" and added that one of the corner stones of the constitution was to lay the groundwork for decision-making in the expanded Union.

With its present change of stance, Warsaw has also indicated it's ready to move away from its insistence on sticking to the Nice agreement and consider the "double majority" voting system as proposed by the EU's Irish presidency.

A "double majority" compromise now on the table would change the balance of power to 55 percent on both counts -- tipping the scales slightly in favor of smaller member states.

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