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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 19:20 GMT
EU prepares major reform
Laeken castle
The Laeken Declaration paves the way for big changes
European leaders have launched a major review of the future shape of the European Union in the hope of increasing efficiency and bringing the EU closer to the people.

European institutions must be brought closer to citizens... They want European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid, and above all, more efficient and open

Laeken Declaration
"There are weaknesses in the EU that must be eliminated," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said at a summit in the royal palace of Laeken outside Brussels.

The leaders adopted a declaration that sets up a 105-member convention to analyse the EU's shortcomings, and to propose structural changes.

They appointed the former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing as its president, and two former prime ministers, Giuliano Amato of Italy and Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium, as vice-presidents.

Convention facts
President: Giscard d'Estaing
Vice-Presidents: Giuliano Amato, Jean-Luc Dehaene
105 members
Starts March 2002, for 15 months
Consults civil society
Candidate states represented
Turkey sending observer
The declaration says that the EU stands "at a crossroads, a defining moment in its existence", as it prepares to admit 10 new members in 2004, and to play a bigger role in world affairs.

It also poses numerous questions that leaders hope the convention will answer over the next two years, during a massive consultation exercise with representatives of civil society.

The questions include whether some powers should be handed back from Brussels to national governments, and whether, in the longer term, Europe should have a constitution.

The summit has also decided:

  • To contribute 4,000 troops to a UN-backed Afghanistan stabilisation force
  • To urge Israel to resume contacts with Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian authority
  • To declare the European rapid reaction force ready for crisis management
  • To name 10 countries expected to join the EU in 2004

It was also expected to call for closer co-operation with Russia in fighting crime and terrorism.

However, after hours of discussion, the summit failed to decide on the location of a host of new agencies, such as the Food Safety Authority.

Our correspondent says such issues are always the source of furious horsetrading.

The Food Safety Authority was sought by both Finland and Italy.

Diplomats said the issue of the agencies had been taken off the agenda, and would be decided next year instead.

A draft statement urging the US not to extend its war on terrorism beyond Afghanistan without approval from the international community was dropped after pressure from the UK.

Greek objections

The convention's findings will be presented to an intergovernmental conference, which will take a final decision on any structural changes.

Named candidates
Czech Republic
The leaders failed to agree on an EU-Nato accord on logistic support for the rapid reaction force because of Greek objections.

Greece fears that an agreement with Nato member Turkey, allowing the force access to Nato facilities - including military planning and communications - gives Turkey too much say in EU affairs.

Though the summit declared the force "operational" for small scale humanitarian missions, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has said it could take "weeks or months" before the final obstacles are removed.

The two candidate countries not present on the list of those expected to join the EU in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania, were promised a "precise framework with a timetable and appropriate roadmap".

Diplomats said they were not expected to join the EU before 2007.

The BBC's John Pienaar in Brussels
"All the leaders are hoping this declaration will lead to a share out of powers"
Peter Hain, EU minister
"A European constituency can mean two things"
See also:

15 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair 'confident' over EU future
15 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Strong support for UN force - Blair
14 Dec 01 | Europe
EU pledges troops for Afghanistan
12 Dec 01 | Europe
Prodi demands action not words
15 Dec 01 | Europe
Profile: Giscard d'Estaing
15 Dec 01 | Europe
New protests mar EU summit
14 Dec 01 | Europe
The EU vanity parade
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