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Europe

Small EU Countries Aim to Revamp Constitution

Hoping to avert a European Union dominated by larger nations, representatives from 15 mostly smaller current and future EU members have met in Prague to discuss changes to a draft European constitution.

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Small countries fear their interests will be trampled by the new EU constitution.

A 105-member convention this spring, led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, unveiled a blueprint constitution that aims to streamline the EU’s institutions and make it capable of functioning when the bloc expands from 15 to 25 members next year.

Although the constitution would consolidate various EU treaties and likely make the bloc more transparent and governable, it has unsettled smaller countries that fear their interests could be swept aside in the name of efficiency. Meeting in Prague on Monday, officials from 15 nations agreed to adopt a common negotiating position before an intergovernmental conference in October that will hammer out the final shape of the European Constitution.

Officials from Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Finland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and the Czech Republic attended the meeting, amounting to the strongest challenge so far to the EU’s larger countries and their alleged intentions to consolidate the bloc’s power.

“There is a certain agreement, so it can be expected that in these areas, I don't want to say there will be common proposals, but certainly some synergy during the intergovernmental conference,” Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout told Reuters after the summit.

Poland, with around 40 million citizens by far the largest candidate country, also attended the “Dwarf Summit” in Prague, but smaller current EU members the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg did not.

“One country, one commissioner”

Kohout said the representatives accepted 90 to 95 percent of the proposed constitution and did not want to derail the draft, but that some changes were necessary. He said they had agreed that each EU country should retain its own representative at the European Commission.

As it now stands, the new constitution would limit the size of the Commission, the body which proposes laws and enforces common EU policies, to 15 executive members. Presently, each country is guaranteed one commissioner and larger nations have two. The smaller nations want to see each member guaranteed a commissioner to protect their national interests in Brussels.

“The overwhelming majority are for the principle of ‘one country, one commissioner’,” Kohout said.

Some smaller countries also want the EU to keep its system of a rotating presidency instead of electing a permanent chairman and they also want to ditch the proposed voting system, under which decisions would be taken by a majority of countries representing at least 60 percent of the EU's population.

“Many states joining on May 1, 2004 have only been sovereign since the political changes in 1989. For some of them it is difficult to once again subordinate themselves to something larger,” an unnamed official representing the EU in Prague told the German news agency DPA.

Big four against changes

Politicians from Europe’s biggest four nations – Germany, France, Britain and Italy – have said trying to drastically revamp the draft constitution could have the disastrous effect of derailing the whole project.

“The draft is a great and reasonable compromise between large and small states,” said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on a trip to Prague last month.

While expressing understanding for the small countries’ desire to protect their interests, Fischer warned against “opening up the package,” saying doing so could create a crisis in within the EU.

The EU hopes to finish negotiations on the constitution before the next election of the European Parliament in June.

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