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Europe

Schröder Optimistic About EU Constitution Deal

After meetings with high-ranking Polish officials in Warsaw on Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he was confident a compromise deal could be reached on the draft EU Constitution.

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"Everyone has to push himself a little," Schröder told Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

In an attempt to shore up support for the EU's first constitution, Chancellor Schröder traveled to Warsaw to meet with Polish leaders. Germany's eastern neighbor and new member in the EU has held back on endorsing the Constitution because of a proposal calling for a change in voting rights. Schröder, who has thrown his entire support behind the current draft, is pushing hard for a compromise deal before the end of the Irish presidency on June 30.

He urged Poland to lend its support to the document, which he said is essential to keep the bloc "politically manageable." With a view to the difficult negotiations that still lie ahead, Schröder told Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski: "Everyone has to push himself a little. Poland too, Mr. President."

Poland fears loss of influence

The Constitution, which was drafted by the European Convention and presented to the European Union last summer, has been bogged down in negotiations over national preferences and voting procedures. Last December talks broke off when EU leaders disagreed on new voting rules designed to ease decision making in the enlarged EU. Spain and Poland, the most outspoken opponents of the proposals, claim the new rules would reduce their influence in the future.

As it stands now, Poland and Spain -- both of whom have expressed reluctance at signing the current draft of the constitution -- each have 27 votes in the policy-making Council of Ministers, even though they have far smaller populations than the EU's four heavyweights -- Britain, France, Germany and Italy -- who have only 29 votes each. The draft constitution would allow EU laws to pass with the support of 50 percent of member states representing 60 percent of the total population. Poland and Spain have argued that the new voting procedure would give too much power to the most populous countries and that it should be modified to 50-66.

Whereas the new Socialist government in Spain has at least tentatively signaled a willingness to accept the Constitution, Poland has been more stubborn.

Germany seeks to avoid another fiasco

The European Union hopes a deal on the Constitution can be sealed at its June 17-18 summit in Brussels. But on Tuesday, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said he doubted the EU would reach an agreement before the mid-June meeting, given the outstanding differences.

Schröder said it was up to all EU members to work towards the June deadline. "The German government is prepared to discuss specific arrangements... but we cannot allow ourselves a fiasco in June," he said at a Warsaw forum on the future of the EU.

"I assume that we will find a solution in June that is fair and acceptable to all and that takes into account Poland's weight and importance."After talks with interim Prime Minister Marek Belka, Schröder said he was confident a solution would be found in June. In the run-up to Wednesday's meeting, Belka had signaled readiness to compromise on the voting rights, but some diplomats fear his weak position in Poland could tie his hands.

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