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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 15:15 GMT
EU leaders strike defence deal
EU leaders Lionel Jospin, Jacques Chirac and Romano Prodi with farmers
EU leaders expect some tough bargaining ahead
European Union leaders meeting in Nice have reached an agreement over its proposed rapid reaction force.

The declaration states specifically that it does not involve the establishment of a European army and links the force to Nato, despite France's call for it to have an independent planning structure.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair should be happy with France's compromise
It has yet to be decided whether a core group of states should be allowed to forge ahead with greater military co-operation - a move that is strongly opposed by the UK.

The agreement attempts to dispel fears of a split between the EU and Nato by underlining the Atlantic alliance continues to form the basis for the EU's collective defence.

Voting rights

French officials said that they had "simplified" proposals for an independent planning structure, following British objections to wording.

European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici told Agence France Presse news agency that this had "avoided a semantic and counterproductive quarrel."

EU leaders are also set to hammer out a new set of voting rights at the summit, although some EU members are reluctant to give up vetoes on certain issues.

Veto rights
EU members want to retain rights on:
UK: taxation, social security, border controls, defence, treaty changes, budget contributions
France: financial services, cultural affairs
Germany: immigration and political asylum
Spain - regional aid
Officials say the decision-making systems must be streamlined before new countries join, but changing the current balance of power and influence is expected to prove highly divisive.

Heads of government are expecting some tough bargaining ahead, although European Commission spokesman Jonathan Faull told the BBC that the leaders had gone a long way towards consensus at Thursday evening's dinner.

Some countries will have to forfeit their right to veto certain decisions, but the UK, France, Germany and Spain each want to keep it on various questions.

Others are being asked to accept a smaller share of votes in the Council of Ministers, or a reduction in the number of European Commissioners from their countries.

German demand

Germany is also making a controversial claim for more votes than anyone else on the Council of Ministers to reflect its bigger population.

Council of Ministers votes
Germany, Britain, France, Italy: 10
Spain: 8
Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Greece: 5
Sweden, Austria: 4
Finland, Denmark, Ireland: 3
Luxembourg: 2
France, in particular, is unhappy with that - and is said to be considering trading in some of its veto rights on other issues to persuade the Germans to back down.

The other big EU countries - including the UK and Italy - are also seeking a greater share of votes.

The changes are needed because 13 new countries are lined up to join the EU, bringing with them the potential to bring all EU business to a grinding halt if the current system is maintained.

But the issue has already defeated the EU leaders at a previous summit in Amsterdam, and no-one is taking a deal for granted.

Security at the summit has been tightened after Thursday¿s street protests, when police clashed with demonstrators from a variety of political backgrounds.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Webb, in Nice
"The decision about whether the city will lend its name to a landmark treaty must be taken"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Some significant changes are already becoming apparant"
UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair
"We should look on this as an opportunity"

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Nice summit glossary
07 Dec 00 | Europe
06 Dec 00 | Europe
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
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