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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
EU leaders 'stall' on constitution
EU flags
Tough negotiations lie ahead on the road to EU enlargement
European leaders have been holding tough negotiations in Brussels in an attempt to forge a future for the European Union.

The 25 heads of state and government - representing existing member countries and those soon to join - are debating how the EU's institutions should be arranged.

But divisions remained as the leaders stuck to their positions set out two weeks ago in Rome, raising doubts about whether a new constitution can be agreed before the end of the year.

This is the same discussion as last time, not a thing is happening here
EU official
The BBC's Tim Franks in Brussels says the draft constitution envisages important changes to the status quo, and what one country sees as a good idea, a handful of others see as a catastrophe in waiting.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said he thought next year's Irish EU presidency would have to continue the consultations.

"This morning has not taken it all in any way forward," he said.

A top EU official told Reuters news agency: "This is the same discussion as last time. Not a thing is happening here."

But officials from Italy, which currently holds the rotating presidency, say that progress has been made.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he would be holding bilateral talks with those who disagreed with parts of the draft until the end of November.

Small-country fears

Poland, though not yet a member of the EU, joined with Spain for what some of their politicians are describing as "a fight to the death" over voting muscle inside the union.

They are opposing any change to a system set out in the 2000 Nice Treaty giving them almost as many votes as Germany despite their much smaller populations.

"Nothing has changed," said Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller. "We see no possibility of departing from Nice."

Flexibility

The UK Government, meanwhile, is pushing the idea of a new, full-time European Union president to co-ordinate the work of national governments.

Speculation is mounting that Tony Blair may yet consider offering Britons a vote on the looming EU constitution
BBC News Online political correspondent, Nick Assinder

On provisions for a new EU defence planning capability, however, Britain is showing more flexibility.

Despite reported American concerns, the UK Government says it can see the case for some sort of permanent staff in charge of planning, but it does not want a full headquarters challenging Nato.

After talk about the constitution, there may be an attempt to round up more cash from reluctant EU member states for the reconstruction of Iraq.

But our correspondent says there are still widely differing views as to who should pay and how much.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"There is likely to be more arguing than deciding"



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