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Schroeder warnsof summit failure

12 December 2003

BRUSSELS – Leaders of the 25 present and future European Union nations are meeting Friday in Brussels at a summit aimed at forging a constitution for the bloc amid warnings that sharp differences could doom the endeavour.

“Of course there will be a fight,” said Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

European Union heavyweights Germany, France and Britain held pre-summit talks in Brussels after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder bluntly declared the whole meeting could fail.

“That could happen,” said Schroeder when asked in an interview on Germany’s ARD TV if the meeting faced a bust-up over the divisive constitutional issue of national voting clout.

Germany and France are leading demands for a new “double majority” voting system which would give countries with large populations more influence.

But Poland and Spain insist on retaining the current voting accord which gives each of them 27 votes, compared to Germany’s 29 votes despite the fact they have less than half the population of Germany.

Retaining this system has been ruled out by Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Swedish Prime Goran Persson threw his weight behind Germany, saying: “It’s not only about Spain and Poland. It’s also about Germany and they play a central and crucial role for the Union. I think it’s time to give them support.”

European Commission President Romano Prodi said Thursday that if no headway was made in Brussels, it would be better to postpone any decision on the constitution

Schroeder’s gloom came after hastily arranged talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasnieski in Berlin Thursday failed to make any progress on resolving the dispute.

“It’s hardly to be believed that a country like Poland will begin its EU membership by casting a veto,” Schroeder said.

Poland is part of a group of 10 mainly east European countries due to join the EU on 1 May 2004.

The draft EU constitution being considered at the summit, is aimed at simplifying decision-making after enlargement.

Taking a more upbeat stance was Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse who said: “Quality comes first but there are indications we will be successful.”

This was echoed by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso who said: “We will find a solution at the last minute as always.”

A further contentious issue is the number of European Commissioners.

Small member states reject the draft’s demand for a slimmed down Commission of 15 members and say every member state must keep a representative on executive Commission.

Subject: German news