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Europe

Schröder, Aznar Fail To Agree on EU Constitution

Spain on Thursday continued to protest the voting system proposed for the EU constitution, saying it would favor larger member states. But Germany says it will push for passage of the current draft.

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Spain's Jose Maria Aznar (left) and Germany's Gerhard Schröder agree to disagree in Berlin.

At a meeting in Berlin on Thursday just two days before the start of a major European Union conference in Rome, Germany’s chancellor and Spain’s prime minister dug their heels in further in a disagreement over the draft of Europe’s first constitution, suggesting that this week's Intergovernmental Conference in Rome could turn into an EU political tug-of-war.

"It’s no secret that we have different opinions on the question of weighing votes," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told reporters at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar on Thursday at a Spanish-German forum in Berlin.

Schröder said Germany would push for the adoption of the constitution as drafted this summer by former French president Valery Giscard D’Estaing. He added that any country that had participated in the work of drafting the constitution at the European Convention and now wanted amendments needed to "explain their position and find a new consensus." The European Convention completed its work and submitted a draft constitution in June.

Nice or nothing?

Meanwhile, Spain’s Aznar defended his government’s criticism of the constitution’s proposed "qualified majority voting," saying that the compromise reached in Nice in 2000 should form the basis of any EU institutional reform. At the EU summit in Nice, leaders agreed that each member state would be given a vote at the Council of Ministers as well as a commissioner on the European Commission.

But under the draft constitution, only 15 countries would be given a minister vote – based on a system of rotation. The draft constitution also calls for decisions to be made by a majority vote of member countries that also represent 60 percent of the total EU population. Smaller and medium-sized countries like Spain and Poland have complained that this mechanism would stilt decision-making in favor of larger member states like Germany and France. Under the current system, Spain and Poland share voting power that is almost equal to that of the larger states.

Both leaders said they would seek to find a compromise by December, but Aznar said the onus would be put on advocates of the new voting system to explain how it would be best-suited for the future of the EU. "It is all about the consensus on institutions in Europe that was reached in Nice, namely the consensus concerning the 25," Aznar said. "If someone wants to change that consensus, they need to explain the reason for it."

Gearing up for Rome

On Saturday, heads of state and government leaders from the EU’s current 15 member states as well as the 10 accession states will come together in Rome to finalize the text of Europe’s first constitution. Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and the Benelux countries are all pushing for the approval of the current draft. But Spain, Austria and a number of smaller EU countries are demanding changes -- with most complaints dealing with the weighing of votes.

Making up

Thursday’s meeting marked the first time Schröder and Aznar have met since they fell out over the Iraq war. After Britain, Spain has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Washington’s efforts to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. Though politicians in Madrid publicly denied it, the Spanish government was said to be privately angered that Aznar was not invited to a summit two weeks ago in Berlin between Schröder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In Berlin on Thursday, Aznar showed no signs of resentment over that meeting. Instead, he seemed intent on finding common ground between Spain and Germany.

Aznar and Schröder agreed to a common position on Iraq, saying that it was time to "look forward." Aznar said both countries wanted to carry out their share in ensuring that sovereignty is returned as quickly as possible to Iraqis. Schröder, meanwhile, said ensuring stability in Iraq was a shared responsibility.

Additionally, the leaders agreed that Europe needed to expand it’s military capabilities and that Europe should establish a central military command that would plan and direct military missions independently of NATO. But the leaders said the command should not be seen as a competitor to NATO, but rather a body that could pick up the slack in defense areas where NATO couldn’t. Schröder and Aznar also stressed the importance of building up Europe’s capacity within NATO.

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