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Europe

Ireland Will Fight for EU Constitution

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern said Tuesday that he plans to focus on resolving deadlocked EU constitution talks during his six months as president of the European Council.

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Ahern and Prodi want to prevent a "two-speed Europe."

Meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi in Dublin, Ahern said his presidency would focus on the admission of 10 new EU member states in May as well as negotiations with admission candidates Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

The Irish leader also made it clear that he planned to keep adoption of the constitution on the agenda, but cautioned that a consensus may not be reached during the Irish EU presidency, which ends in June. “We want to approach the issue with a positive attitude and not think about possible failure,” Ahern said, adding that EU citizens expected this.

Adoption of constitution in 2004 crucial

Last December, EU leaders failed to reach a consensus on the draft constitution. Voting rights remain the biggest problem, as some states, such as Poland and Spain, don’t want to see their voting power reduced. Under the current system, both countries have almost as much voting weight as France or Germany, despite much smaller populations.

Prodi agreed that a compromise on the proposed EU constitution would have to be reached this year in order to avoid some member states pushing ahead with further integration. But the EU official added that in case of a failure, a so-called “two-speed Europe” was likely to become reality.

“We have to make an effort for one year together to have a joint common decision,” Prodi said. “If we’re unable to do that, we can’t wait for ever. That is clear. We can’t stop Europe.”

Prodi opposes freezing of EU budget

The commission president also said he opposed a proposal to freeze the union’s budget at 1 percent of gross national income (GNI) from 2007 onwards. Germany, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Austria, all net payer’s to EU’s coffers, had suggested the move last December.

At the moment, the budget is capped at 1.24 percent of GNI – roughly €25 billion ($32 billion) more than the bloc spends. But Prodi said the maximum spending allowance would have to be used to deal with the imminent EU expansion.

“We need the funds for our domestic and justice policy, for the common foreign policy and to make our economy more competitive,” Prodi said. “With 1 percent of GNI we cannot reach the goals we set ourselves.”

Prodi plans to outline his budget plans for the 2007-2013 period on Jan. 25.

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