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Europe

Schröder's Shuttle Diplomacy to Save EU

Germany forced the pace Friday as European leaders scrambled to resolve the deep political crisis over the EU constitution, with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder scheduling a series of meetings with EU leaders.

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Could a bit of magic save the EU constitution?

The bloc is suffering one of the biggest crises in its history after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the first text of its kind, shattering efforts to streamline ground rules for the ever-expanding EU membership.

With polls in Denmark suggesting it, too, would reject the treaty, Britain appearing ready to put its promised referendum on ice and Luxembourg's prime minister forced to put his job on the line, Schröder has emerged -- almost by default -- as a mediator.

"I will not give up in working for this constitution, for a united Europe which we need," Schröder said on Thursday, after crisis talks in Luxembourg with the European Union's current presidency.

With French President Jacques Chirac compromised by the decisive "no" from his electorate in Sunday's French referendum, Schröder -- the other half of the Franco-German engine at the heart of Europe -- has been forced to lead the salvage operation.

He followed his flying visit to Luxembourg by dashing back to Berlin for a brief meeting with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

Chirac, Blair and Juncker on agenda

Jacques Chirac bei Gerhard Schröder in Berlin

Chirac is due to fly in Saturday for a working dinner in the German capital with Schröder and the two will meet again five days later in Paris.

Meanwhile Schröder will squeeze in another meeting with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker next week as well. Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair visits on June 13, just ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on June 16-17 at which they will discuss what to do next.

Speculation mounted Friday that Britain will announce on Monday that it is putting its referendum on hold in the wake of the massive rejections by voters in France and Wednesday in the Netherlands.

Struggling to keep the treaty together

Bildergalerie Gerhard Schröder 17

While Germany has ratified the constitution, albeit without a referendum, Schröder and the other defenders of the constitution appeared to be facing an increasingly difficult task to hold the treaty together.

He warned against "overreaction" to the referendum outcomes, but little good news was emerging on Friday to help his cause.

With Luxembourg the next country to hold a referendum on the constitution, on July 10, Juncker declared he would resign if his country's voters rejected it. "It is a question of basic decency towards the voters of Luxembourg," the premier told reporters. "If there is a 'no,' it is not the people who have to quit. It is up to me to go," he added.

Juncker was speaking after opinion polls showed a surge of support for the "no" camp in Luxembourg, the tiny state which has been a staunch supporter of the European project.

Denmark likely to join the No club

Anders Rasmussen

And in Denmark, public opinion has swung against ratification of the treaty in the wake of the rejection in France and the Netherlands, two opinion polls showed. Both Danish polls give the "no" camp a clear lead for the first time, less than four months ahead of a referendum on September 27.

Schröder meanwhile called for the process of ratifying the constitution to continue, arguing that all 25 EU member states had been promised the right to vote on it and must be allowed to do so.

Domestic worries lingering behind EU crisis

Schröder Merkel Combo

Links: Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder gibt Autogramme waehrend seines Rundganges beim 30. Deutschen Evangelischen Kirchentages am Freitag, 27. Mai 2005, in Hannover. Unter dem Motto "Wenn dein Kind dich morgen fragt..." treffen sich auf dem bis zum 29. Mai 2005 andauernden Laientreffen rund 100.000 Dauerteilnehmer. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) Rechts: Die CDU Vorsitzende Angela Merkel unterrichtet die Medien in der Zentrale der Partei am Montag, 23. Mai 2005. Bei der Bundestags-Neuwahl im Herbst wird CDU-Chefin Angela Merkel nach Aussage des hessischen Ministerpraesidenten Roland Koch als Kanzlerkandidatin fr die Union antreten. (AP Photo/Jockel Finck)

Ironically, if Schröder does manage to save the constitution, it could be virtually his last act as German chancellor. In the wake of a devastating state election defeat for his Social Democrats last month, he called a no confidence vote in his government on July 1 which will almost certainly lead to an early general election in September.

Opinion polls currently show that the opposition conservative Christian Democrats, led by Angela Merkel, will win.

While Germany will watch the developments both at home and in Europe closely, so will Bulgaria and Romania who are hoping that the current EU crisis and the compromised standing of the current German chancellor does not put their accession bids in jeopardy.

On Friday Schröder threw his support behind the attempts of Romania and Bulgaria to join the European Union, despite concerns in the rest of the bloc that it is growing too fast.

"There are differing opinions about the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU, as well as about the start of negotiations with Turkey, but I remain convinced that we must support these moves," Schröder said after meeting the visiting Romanian prime minister, Calin Tariceanu.

EU hopefuls fear for Schröder, Europe

Though both countries count Schröder as one of their most staunch supporters of their membership bids, a looming federal election that could replace him with a conservative alternative has struck fear. That may all be academic if current concerns over whether the Dutch and French rejections of the constitution may put a freeze on enlargement become reality.

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