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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 11:53 GMT
Europe's blueprints for reform
The Laeken summit may come to be remembered for starting a process leading to fundamental reform of the European Union.

It will set up a convention, made up of parliamentarians and government representatives from across Europe, who will debate the EU's future with trade unions, pressure groups and academics.

But since last year's Nice summit, a number of European leaders have already been outlining their own visions.

BBC News Online examines the differing stances of Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, the European Commission and the European Parliament on key issues - political union, defence and security, the constitution, and social policy.

Political union:

Belgium:

Belgium offended a number of countries in the introduction to its draft Laeken declaration by painting a bleak picture of the EU as undemocratic, untransparent and distant from its citizens.

The remedies it proposes for this include:

  • A directly elected president of the European Commission. Currently he or she is nominated by EU member states and then approved by the European Parliament.
  • Making the Council of Ministers - made up of government ministers from EU states - a second chamber of parliament
  • Pan-European political parties
  • The extension of qualified majority voting

The proposals were popular in Germany which also wants a stronger commission, but there were reservations from France, the UK and eurosceptic countries like Denmark.

Germany:

In May, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder put forward his blueprint for Europe - a "federal" model similar to the structure of Germany itself. The main elements were:

  • European Commission to become "strong European executive"
  • Council of Ministers to become upper house in two-chamber parliamentary system.
  • European Parliament to be lower house with more powers and full sovereignty over budget
  • European President to be chosen by parliament.
  • Transfer of EU responsibilities back to national and regional level, especially in agriculture and structural aids

France:

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin rejects Germany's federal vision. He wants to build a closer union while preserving the "nation-state". His proposals include:

  • Granting more power to the European Parliament and to the Council of Ministers
  • The European Commission to be made more democratically accountable by drawing the commission president from the political group holding a parliamentary majority
France is worried that EU enlargement will weaken French influence.

Last year, French President Jacques Chirac called for an inner core of EU members that could pursue faster integration - a "two-speed Europe". But the idea did not meet with general approval.

UK:

The UK Government hopes to be "at the heart of Europe" despite staying, for now, outside the eurozone. The UK public is deeply eurosceptic and afraid of giving up national powers to Europe. Up to two-thirds of the public is against joining the single currency.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested that a second chamber of the European Parliament could be formed from representatives of the national parliaments.

European Commission:

  • The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, says the European Commission should be more involved in EU foreign policy and play a bigger role as a co-ordinator of economic policy.

  • The EU's high representative on foreign policy, Javier Solana, should be a member of the European Commission.

  • However, he rejects the idea of a second chamber of the European Parliament to oversee the use of EU powers.

European Parliament

The parliament's blueprint emphasises the need for democratic accountability and transparency in the EU. Its demands include:

  • Simplified procedures for making legislation. It wants more decisions to be made by a qualified majority vote by the Council of Ministers (representing national governments) in co-decision with the parliament. It also wants the Council to deliberate in public.

  • Direct election of the president of the European Commission, who is currently nominated by EU member states and then approved by parliament.

  • The establishment of a public prosecutor's office which would be accountable to the court of justice.

Defence and security:

After 11 September the European Union has tried to accelerate proposals for common security measures in order to combat the terrorist threat. It has also been pressing ahead with its plans for a rapid-reaction force.

European Parliament:

The parliament says the aims of a common foreign, security and defence policy should particularly target terrorism. It also wants more integration on crime-fighting, bringing police and judicial co-operation under one umbrella.

UK:

With long experience of terrorism, the UK backs far-reaching security measures. It has proposed even tougher anti-terror legislation in its own national parliament than that under consideration by the EU. However, this may bring it into conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK was one of the instigators of the planned rapid reaction force but the idea has met some fierce objections from opposition parties.

But the government has stressed it will not replace or rival Nato and says it will improve European capabilities. It says it is not intended for fighting full-scale wars or contingencies where European security as a whole is threatened.

Germany:

Germany has supported the setting up the rapid reaciton force and is expected to make a substantial contribution to it.

France:

Prime Minister Jospin has proposed a long-term, co-ordinated defence policy for Europe. France is particularly concerned by the United States' plans for a missile defence programme.

Constitution:

Belgium:

The draft Laeken declaration includes a demand for a European constitution. Belgium also wants the Charter of Fundamental Rights, endorsed by EU leaders at last year's Nice summit, to be integrated into EU law. The charter sets out a range of civil, political and social rights.

Germany:

Germany is keen for the EU to have its own constitution. The idea was supported in a speech last year by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and backed by Mr Schroeder.

France:

Mr Jospin has proposed a European constitution, based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

UK:

The UK is against a European constitution. The UK fears that if the Charter becomes legally binding it could undermine the UK's national sovereignty.

European Parliament:

Parliament says that a new constitution for Europe must emerge from the 2003 inter-governmental conference. According to parliament, it should include the charter on fundamental rights.

Social policies:

France:

Mr Jospin wants common social policies for Europe, based on state welfare and stricter worker protection laws.

France also wants a greater consultation with trades unions and a consumer protection network to ensure transparency about the origin of products, in response to the BSE crisis.

Germany:

Germany broadly agrees with France on social issues. It has strong trade unions.

UK:

The UK is fiercely protective of its veto on social security questions and it won the right to keep its veto at last year's Nice Summit. However it has signed up to the Social Chapter.

European Parliament:

Parliament wants member states to co-ordinate their economic policies more closely. It believes a more transparent European Central Bank and the consolidation of social policy would help achieve "social progress, security and well-being for Europe's citizens".

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Europe
28 May 01 | Europe
25 May 01 | Vote2001
29 Apr 01 | Politics
18 May 01 | Europe
14 Mar 01 | Europe
28 May 01 | Media reports
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