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Europe

Germany Presses for EU Constitution By End of 2004

German Chancellor Schröder has stressed that the need for a decision on an EU Constitution by the end of this year. In a statement published Saturday, he said his country will not offer concessions on voting rights.

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Schröder is all in favor of the EU constitution, but not at all costs.

Following last month’s failed attempt to approve an EU constitution, European leaders have been busy pointing fingers at each other and passing the blame for the row over voting right. Spain and Poland have aligned themselves against Germany and France in opposing a proposal to replace the current complex voting system with one that allows for a simple majority of 13 nations (from 25) as long as they represent 60 percent of the EU’s 450 million population. Berlin and Paris are clearly in favor of the reformed procedure put forth in the constitution and have criticized the blocking by the other two.

"We have put on the table what we believe is right," Schröder was quoted in the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. "We must see by the end of 2004 at the latest whether we can reach a decision on this basis."

"Of course we will have to see where we can give ground to one or another (country)," he added, "but concessions on the weighting of votes are out of the question."

Spain and Poland refused to endorse the new voting system claiming it would put too much power in the hands of more populous Germany, France, Britain and Italy, which already dominate the EU on the sheer basis on their strong economies. The two smaller members want to retain a system adopted in the Nice Treaty of 2000 that gave them each 27 votes against 29 for France and Germany.

In response to the derailed summit in Brussels, French President Jacques Chirac suggested that a "pioneer group" of nations could move forward alone with closer cooperation on areas such as the economy, justice and defense. The idea of a "two-speed Europe," however, has drawn a harsh response from many other members.

Schröder, who in the past year has moved his country on a path close to Paris, said he does not necessarily embrace the notion of a core Europe with other members on the sideline. "I don't want this," he told Der Spiegel, "but I must prepare myself for the fact that developments could go in this direction."

Taking over the EU's rotating six-month presidency on Thursday, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern forecast that the bickering members would eventually agree on a constitution. But he conceded it would be "quite a long task" that could stretch beyond 2004.

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