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Spain and Britain clash over the future of EU treaty

20 June 2007

LUXEMBOURG – Spain and Britain were at loggerheads over the future of the EU treaty on the eve of crucial summit talks on Wednesday.

London and Poland faced pressure from Madrid and other EU partners to end their opposition to a new, simplified European Union treaty to replace the bloc’s stalled constitution.

In talks just days before a crucial EU summit, Britain and Poland faced increasing pressure to compromise on a redraft of a new EU rulebook, but held firm to their positions.

The government of Jose Luis Rodrguez Zapatero put pressure on outgoing British PM Tony Blair to give way on the issue of a new EU foreign minister.

Spain threatede to veto a plan to create a stable presidency for the EU if Britain opposes the creation of a foreign minister.

Currently, Javier Solana, is the EU foreign representative and would be a leading candidate to become the new foreign minister.

But British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said Britain could not support any measure which would allow the independence of its foreign policy to be compromised.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said all 27 EU nations stand to lose if their leaders fail to reach an agreement on the new treaty at the summit, which begins Thursday.

“If there is no compromise, no agreement, everyone will have lost,” Steinmeier told reporters. “We need all the efforts. We need this for the future of Europe.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the EU presidency, wants to end a two-year impasse on the constitution _ the charter laying out how to govern the expanding EU _ by replacing it with an updated EU treaty.

She has urged EU leaders to accept a plan that aims for ratification of the slimmed-down treaty by 2009. All 27 EU nations would need to endorse such a treaty for it to come into effect.

Poland seemed increasingly isolated in its opposition of the treaty but refused to budge from its threat to veto the entire redraft of the constitution if changes are not made to the new voting system.

“Poland will not accept the treaty’s voting provisions,” said Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga. But she said her country was “willing to talk.”

Officials describe a less ambitious treaty that simply amends the current version of the EU’s founding charter of 1957, rather than the new constitution that French and Dutch voters rejected in 2005.

Poland demands a renegotiation on the EU’s future voting system _ an issue that is so politically sensitive that it is widely seen as a potential summit dealbreaker.

In a technical paper released Monday, Poland said it wanted to “ensure a balance between big, medium and small states,” in relation to the amount of power each member wields in the bloc.

It claimed Germany would have an unfair and disproportionate number of votes compared with other members, and proposed a redistribution of votes.

Diplomats said however a compromise was being considered that the new voting system would be delayed and only take effect in 2014 _ after the EU’s new seven-year budget is negotiated.

Until then, the current system _ which gives Poland almost as much voting power as more-populous Germany _ would be maintained, diplomats said.

Late Sunday, foreign ministers discussed dropping the very name “constitution” _ and symbols of the EU such as its motto, flag and anthem _ sticking points that blocked a deal on the charter, Steinmeier said.

France and Spain also joined forces to call on Poland and Britain to support maintaining key parts of the current draft _ notably on dropping vetoes in 51 policy areas, including policing and foreign policy, and to keep intact new voting rules.

Blair, who will retire days after the EU summit, held firm to his county’s position against a new treaty that would include a reference to a previously agreed-to Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Britain fears such a move to include a charter would erode its control over domestic law. Britain also wants out of previously agreed measures to drop member countries’ veto powers in policing and foreign policy areas.

“We will not accept a treaty that allows the charter of fundamental rights to change U.K. law in any way,” Blair told a parliamentary committee in London. “We will not agree to give up our ability to control our common law and judicial and police system.”

Margot Wallstrom, European Commission vice president, said other member states were “reluctant” to reopen the voting issue.

EU diplomats were to continue talks in Brussels on Tuesday to draft a discussion paper before the EU summit.

Under the draft constitution’s voting rules, measures are adopted if at least 55 percent of EU nations say “yes” and if they represent 65 percent of the EU population.

These “double majority” rules would replace a current system that gives Poland a disproportionately large say in the EU: Its population represents only 8 percent of the bloc, but Poland now has 27 votes out of 345. Germany has 29 votes but accounts for 17 percent of the EU population of around 490 million people.

Also, no progress was made at foreign ministers’ talks on dropping the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the draft constitution _ a key British demand.

[Copyright AP with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news