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The BBC's Colin Blane in Nice
"There are signs in a break of the logjam"
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Robin Cook, UK Foreign Secretary
"We do want to secure a treaty that will pave the way for enlargement"
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The BBC's Angus Roxburgh in Nice
"The French have been using confessionals to establish each country's so-called red lines"
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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 05:07 GMT
French hope for Nice treaty
European Youth Alliance demonstrators
"Veto cloning": European Youth Alliance demonstrators wearing Tony Blair masks
French leaders will present a draft agreement to the European Union summit in Nice aimed at achieving the most fundamental overhaul of EU voting structures since the European project began.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin are hoping their draft Treaty of Nice will streamline EU decision-making so that the union stays manageable as it takes in up to 13 new members in coming years.

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
Mr Chirac and Mr Jospin tried to prepare the ground by meeting individually with other leaders on Friday night in a series of private meetings to find out what was negotiable and what was not.

At issue are national vetoes and how much representation each country should have in EU structures.

A number of the union's biggest countries, including the UK, France, Germany and Spain, are reluctant to give up national vetoes in signficicant areas.

Big countries versus small

Meanwhile, small countries 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.

And Germany, the EU's most populous state, wants more votes in the Council of Ministers to reflect its size.

French President Jacques Chirac talks to German Chancellor Grehard Schroeder
Mr Chirac wants Mr Schroeder to back down over representation
That position puts Germany at odds with France, its traditional ally in the European project.

France, in particular, is unhappy with that position and is said to be considering trading in some of its veto rights on other issues to persuade the Germans to back down.

Compromise will be necessary if the EU is to be governable when it admits up to 10 formerly Communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Malta, Cyprus and Turkey.

Old structures

The current voting system was designed for the original six-member European Coal and Steel Community, the EU's predecesor, not the EU that could have as many as 28 members within the next decade.

An official statement from the EU leaders on Friday said they hoped some new members would be ready to join the union in time to "participate in the next European Parliament elections" in 2004.

President Chirac emphasised, however, there was "no commitment for the entry of this or that country. There is no commitment on dates", he told the Associated Press news agency.

There has been talk of the summit continuing an extra day, into Sunday, if necessary to reach agreement.

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

Military compromise

France and Britain did reach a compromise over the new rapid reaction force announced on Friday, which the US had made clear should not compete with Nato.

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.

French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac maintained his good humour on Friday
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.

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

European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici said that this had "avoided a semantic and counterproductive quarrel."

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Nice summit glossary
Charter of Fundamental Rights
07 Dec 00 | Europe
Press gets Nice fever
06 Dec 00 | Europe
Schroeder plea for Nice accord
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Row over 'secret EU superstate'
09 Dec 00 | Europe
Mr Nice Guy
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