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Europe

Schröder and Aznar Agree to Disagree -- For Now

German Chancellor Schröder and Spanish Premier Aznar failed to settle their differences when they met in Berlin this week. They still hope to resolve discord over the EU constitution before an EU conference in December.

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Aznar and Schröder: Sure don't look like they have irreconcilable differences

As expected, the German and Spanish leader couldn't reach a consensus on the future constitution of the European Union in two days of governmental consultations in Berlin, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said Tuesday.

Spain's José María Aznar spoke of "certain institutional divergences that we don't conceal."

But both men looked forward to resolving the issues before the EU governmental conference in December, where the draft constitution could be ratified.

"We have agreed to continue the constructive conversation," Schröder said.

Along with Poland, Spain has been one of the most vociferous opponents of the draft constitution hammered out by a forum of EU ministers and parliamentarians in 16 months of tough negotiations. The constitution has been designed to streamline decision-making within the EU after it expands from 15 to 25 members next May.

Concerns about the "big four"

The draft calls for many decisions to be made through majority votes made from states representing at least 60 percent of the entire EU population. But Spain and other smaller countries fear that the biggest EU states -- Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom -- will be able to build fronts to block or push through decisions. The "big four" all support the current draft.

Spain and Poland want to retain the Nice Treaty, which accords them voting rights disproportionate to their population. Poland, for example, would have merely two votes less than Germany in the EU's Ministerial Council when it joins the union in 2004, despite having less than half of the population of its neighbor.

Defense still a thorny issue

Schröder and Aznar didn't speak the same language on the EU joint defense policy either.

Aznar stressed that Europe must avoid duplicating NATO's defense capabilities. Schröder, however, emphasized that Europe must be capable of acting more readily. But he said the point was not to develop the EU into competition for the NATO.

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