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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 15:19 GMT
EU 'failing its people'
Guy Verhofstadt and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Mr Verhofstadt is on a tour of European capitals
Belgium says the European Union is out of touch with its citizens and has failed to placate its critics in a draft document prepared for the Laeken summit in two weeks' time.


[The European citizen] no longer recognises himself in the European institutions, which he criticises as heavy, rigid and above all lacking in transparency

Belgian document
Drawn up by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, the leaked draft says the union is facing an identity crisis and a gulf is opening between the people and Brussels.

It also contains Belgium's proposals for a radical reform of EU institutions to stem a rising tide of Euroscepticism and prepare for the admission of 10 new members in 2004.

Correspondents say the document may yet undergo several changes before being presented at the Laeken conference.

Secretive

Mr Verhofstadt is touring EU capitals with the draft document, entitled The Future of the European Union.

Belgian draft proposals
Directly elected European president
European Constitution
Enshrining Charter of Fundamental Rights in EU law
Extension of qualified majority voting
Cross-European political parties
Council of Ministers to become second parliament

"A gulf has opened up between the citizen and the European institutions... He [the citizen] no longer recognises himself in the European institutions, which he criticises as heavy, rigid and above all lacking in transparency," the document says.

It goes on to say that citizens find the union is too little involved in the issues that matter and interferes too much in matters best left to national governments.

People also find that too much is being done behind closed doors, without public knowledge or democratic control, the report found.

The UK's Times newspaper reports that the French Government, in particular, believes that the draft prejudges too many issues that should be debated further and decided by heads of government in 2004.

Bigger terror role

More Eurosceptical states, such as Sweden and Britain, are likely to disagree with proposals to transfer more power to a Commission headed by an elected president, at the expense of national governments.

Irish no campaigner
The Irish no vote was a major setback to treaty

As further proof of disenchantment, the document cites Denmark's and Ireland's No votes in recent referendums on European questions, as well as the low turnout in recent Euro-elections.

Surveys show that ordinary citizens want the EU to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration and tackling environmental ills, the report says.

"The citizen demands a clear, transparent, efficient and democratic approach (from Europe)... There is no doubt that Europe must, for this reason, fundamentally reform itself, refresh its ideas and in a certain way reinvent itself," the document says.

See also:

11 Jun 01 | Europe
EU 'to proceed with enlargement'
08 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland rejects EU expansion
18 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder's EU plans explained
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