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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
EU receives draft constitution
Italian PM and current EU President Silvio Berlusconi (right) receives the draft EU constitution from Valery Giscard d'Estaing
The draft was formally handed over at a ceremony in Rome
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing has warned that any attempt to alter the draft European Union constitution will "tear Europe apart".

Mr Giscard d'Estaing headed the constitutional convention which agreed the draft, which significantly changes the way the EU is run as it prepares to enlarge.

It introduces the posts of president and foreign minister of the bloc, and simplifies decision-making by reducing individual members' powers of veto.

But there are lingering worries among EU member states, and there is still much talking to be done before the constitution is formalised.

I am conscious of delivering into your hands and into those of your colleagues a precious and fragile object - I ask you to take the greatest care of it
Valery Giscard d'Estaing

The former president made his comments as he formally handed the document over to the current EU President, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, at a ceremony in Rome on Friday.

He told Mr Berlusconi and representatives of other EU member states that trying to change the draft would unravel delicate compromises agreed during 16 months of negotiations.

"Our proposal goes, I think, as far as is possible in the political, social and cultural climate of Europe today," Mr Giscard d'Estaing said.

"Wanting to go beyond that, we will tear Europe apart, when it has just been reunified. It's a risk which nobody has a right to take."

May treaty?

Mr Berlusconi, a media magnate turned politician whose outspoken comments have angered many of his EU partners, will now seek solve remaining differences between member states at an inter-governmental conference due to start on 4 October in Rome.

We have to take care that this dossier is not re-opened and turned upside down
Silvio Berlusconi
He has made the wrapping up of the negotiations by the end of December a goal of Italy's six-month EU presidency.

The conference will draw together representatives of the current 15 members as well as the 10 incoming states which will officially join the EU on May 1, 2004.

It is proposed that all 25 members will sign a treaty introducing the constitution on 9 May.

Mr Berlusconi backed Mr Giscard d'Estaing's comments.

"We have to take care that this dossier is not re-opened and turned upside down," he said.

Mr Berlusconi, who provoked anger this month by comparing a German deputy to a Nazi concentration camp guard, said that the former French president had advised him to display "gentle violence" during the forthcoming negotiations.

"In Italy, people say that I am too nice," he told reporters.

"In this case, I'll try to be a bit nasty to make sure that the European constitution is a success."

Q&A: Europe's constitution
03 Jul 03  |  Europe
What the EU constitution says
14 Jun 03  |  Europe

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