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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
EU prepares to battle for power

By Chris Morris
BBC Europe correspondent

Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing has been travelling Europe to build a consensus

It may not become a bestseller, but plenty of people in Brussels were poring over the details of the revised draft of the European Union's future constitution as soon as it was published.

Within a year a treaty will probably emerge from this draft which will determine the way the EU works for the next generation.

What it does is try to simplify all the European treaties which have come before it into a single document.

In places it is highly technical, but it also tries to set out in simple language the purpose, the powers and the values of the EU.

Battle for power

It is such a wide-ranging exercise that it is almost impossible to please everyone.

Some euro-enthusiasts think this draft is not bold enough, that it does not further the cause of European integration.

Euro-sceptics, on the other hand, talk about it as though it is the harbinger of doomsday.

So we are all set for a classic EU moment - a good old-fashioned battle for power.

And it is not just Britain which is getting ready to fight its corner.

Perhaps few can match some of the British newspapers when they talk of the end of a thousand years of British history, but there is a realisation across the EU that if you do not make your voice heard, you risk losing out.

Gaining influence

So, for example, the smaller EU countries, which oppose the idea of a permanent EU president,, are meeting in Vienna this week to try to thrash out a common position on the draft constitution.

The EU has always got by on last minute deals and compromises, and behind this whole process is the knowledge that when the EU expands next year, to include 25 member states, things have to change anyway
They want to retain the main elements of the rotating presidency, which is handed to a different country every six months.

They also want to ensure that they all have the right to send a representative to serve as a European commissioner in Brussels.

Otherwise, they fear, they will lose influence and bigger countries such as Britain, Germany, France and - in the future - Poland will push them around.

Deals and compromises

Other countries have other problems.

Tony Blair
Blair's opponents have been pushing for a referendum on the EU

So are we heading for deadlock? After all, any individual member state could veto the whole process if it felt sufficiently threatened.

On balance, it is probably unlikely.

The EU has always got by on last minute deals and compromises, and behind this whole process is the knowledge that when the EU expands next year, to include 25 member states, things have to change anyway.

The current system of running the EU is already creaking at the seams, and with 10 more countries on board it could simply grind to a halt.

So, there is a real incentive to make the effort to reach an agreement.

Persuading the public

The chairman of the constitutional convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has been criss-crossing Europe talking to government leaders and national politicians, trying to find the kind of words which are most likely to be approved.

He clearly has not got there yet.

There is a lot of haggling to come, and there will be significant changes.

But in the end, there probably will be a constitutional treaty, and it probably will be based in large part on what is been drafted so far.

Then, of course, comes ratification.

Some countries will rely on parliamentary approval, others will put the issue to a referendum, allowing the people to decide.

And so, could the biggest challenge be to persuade the European public to come on board?

Q&A: Europe's constitution
26 May 03  |  Europe
Q&A: The UK, Europe and referendums
20 May 03  |  Politics

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