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Tuesday, 5 December, 2000, 14:46 GMT
Blair seeks 'flexible' Europe
Blair and Chirac
Tony Blair has discussed the summit with President Chirac
Prime Minister Tony Blair has set himself five key objectives for this weekend's European Union summit in Nice.


Future historians will see it as a landmark in the re-invention of Europe

Peter Mandelson on the Nice summit
The prime minister's official spokesman said the objectives aimed to strengthen the UK's position in Europe.

He said Mr Blair would refuse to agree to proposals that could damage British interests adding that there was no question of giving up control of crucial issues like taxation or social security.

The summit is regarded as one of the most important meeting of EU leaders in years and aims to pave the way for the entry of some 13 new members.

The leaders are expected to agree a new treaty changing the way the EU works and makes decisions.

Mr Blair's five objectives for the summit are:

  • More power for Britain through a substantial re-weighting of votes;
  • A smaller and better organised European Commission;
  • A more flexible Europe, with no "hardcore" nations and no damage to the single market;
  • More qualified majority voting (QMV) where it will advance Britain's interests and none where it will not.

    Up for discussion

    The re-weighting of national votes is seen as one of the most important issues up for discussion.

    Under this plan, the bigger states with larger populations will be given a greater weight of votes than the smaller countries.

    The change is needed to protect the bigger countries' positions when many more smaller countries are admitted to the EU - and at least one very populous one, Turkey.

    Francis Maude
    Francis Maude: This is not about enlargement
    Mr Blair has already agreed to give up one of Britain's two commissioners in return for a good reweighting of votes.

    "Where QMV is good for Britain, we will support it, for example in relation to trade and services we would have no objection to removing the veto on that," said Mr Blair's spokesman.

    Retaining the veto

    The government is committed to retaining the veto on taxation, social security, defence, border controls and the EU budget.

    The summit will also discuss the latest controversial European defence initiative and sign a non-binding charter of fundamental rights.

    Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, speaking to to the Foreign Policy Centre on Tuesday, said the summit and the subsequent Treaty of Nice "will open the EU's doors to a dozen or more new applicants".

    He added: "Future historians will see it as a landmark in the re-invention of Europe, drawing a clear line under the divisions and turmoil of the last century."

    His remarks came the day after the UK Government's position on Nice was criticised by the head of the European Commission, Romano Prodi.

    Shadow Foreign Secretary Francis Maude insisted his party's criticism of the government ahead of the summit did not mean the Conservatives were againts EU enlargement.

    "We all want enlargement, it is the Conservative government that led the movement towards enlargement.

    "There is a scar which disfigures the continent of Europe, which divides Eastern and Central Europe from the West. That has got to be healed."

    But he criticised the treaty and said it had nothing to do with enlargement.

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