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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Cool reception for EU constitution
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis receives a copy of the draft constitution from Valery Giscard D'Estaing
Difficult negotiations lie ahead
European Union leaders have given a reserved welcome to draft proposals for an EU constitution, but already there are indications that a bitter debate is to come.

The summit of 15 member states and 10 countries which will join next year said the draft document was a "good basis" for discussion.

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing hammered out the text with a convention of more than 100 delegates in a debate that lasted 16 months.

We need to know the feelings of all EU citizens
Graham Rodhouse, UK/ Netherlands

He had pleaded for his draft to be adopted with as few changes as possible, but that now seems unlikely.

The three-day summit, which is being held in the secluded Greek resort of Porto Carras, is also covering issues including asylum, Iraq, relations with the US and the Balkans.

A massive security operation has been mounted to try to avoid the violent protests seen at other recent meetings.

On Friday, a violent fringe of protesters demonstrating at a nearby town was pushed back by police using tear gas. Thousands of other demonstrators marched peacefully.

Contentious issues

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, described the adoption of the draft constitution as "historic".

The constitution is supposed to streamline the EU's hotch-potch of treaties into a single, easy to understand text.

Mr Simitis added: "Despite the uncertainties, doubts and questions... the result is here in front of us all today. It is true that the result is built on compromise but it is an excellent compromise".

The most controversial proposals in the draft constitution are:

  • A full-time EU president
  • A new foreign minister
  • A slimmed-down Commission
  • A reduction in the use of the national veto

Opinion is divided between the countries which want more power to be held by Brussels and those who want national governments to have a bigger say and between the bigger and smaller members.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "Of particular importance to us is the recognition... that what we want is a Europe of nations, not a federal superstate".

Friday morning - European constitution
Friday lunch/pm - EU-US ties, European security strategy
Friday night - talks with Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey
Saturday - Summit with Balkans leaders

The UK is expected to battle particularly hard over plans to reduce the number of issues where governments can use their veto.

The constitution instead proposes an increase in qualified majority voting as well as in the influence of the parliament.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: "We haven't got a lot (of concerns), nobody has a lot, but there are a few key issues for us".

However, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer - whom the media tips to be the first EU foreign minister - said "there will not be any more fundamental changes" to the proposals.

Horse-trading over the issues will begin at an intergovernmental conference in October.

The EU hopes to sign the new treaty as soon as possible after 1 May 2004 when 10 new countries, mainly from Eastern Europe, will join the union.

Other decisions taken at the summit include:

  • The summit is to adopt statements ranging from Iran, Iraq and North Korea to Aids and the need to repair relations with the United States after the Iraq crisis.

  • Leaders are expected to endorse a new and more assertive foreign policy doctrine centring on "pre-emptive engagement".

    UK proposals for radical changes to asylum policy were withdrawn after meeting stiff opposition from other member states.

    The BBC's Stephen Sackur
    "A constitution for Europe [is] firmly on the horizon"

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