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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
EU sets charter crisis deadline
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Vienna

EU foreign ministers meet in Austria
EU officials met at Klosterneuburg to discuss the bloc's future
EU officials have given themselves until 2009 to resolve a crisis caused by French and Dutch voters' rejection of the constitution last year.

EU foreign ministers concluding talks near Vienna admitted there was no consensus yet on how to move forward.

Some at the talks hinted the new treaty may no longer be called a constitution.

The EU's first-ever constitution was designed to make the bloc work better after its eastward expansion - and its rejection by voters triggered a crisis.

Election hint

Last year's storm clouds are slowly retreating, the Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik declared, but the time is not ripe yet for a definitive solution.

Fifteen countries have ratified the constitution and Finland will begin procedures next week.

But EU leaders will wait for next May's key elections in France and the Netherlands to see if the political climate has changed enough to allow the bloc's biggest nation, Germany, to come up with new ideas when it holds the EU presidency in the first half of next year.

While Ms Plassnik refused to give a clear timetable, she said the EU needed a clear legal basis by 2009, when the make-up of the European Parliament and its executive Commission are due for a change.

'Solid foundations'

For the first time, her Dutch, Finnish and German colleagues hinted that even the name, constitution, could be dropped to make the new treaty more appealing to disgruntled voters.

If someone finds a better name, that would be great, quipped the president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.

Europe, he said, was faced with a choice - either reinforce today's climate of pessimism and even cynicism, or create a better atmosphere for a settlement by delivering results.

The clearest result so far has been a slowdown of plans to admit new countries from south-east Europe, to suit the mood of voters mainly in France.

The French Minister for Europe, Catherine Colonna, said the EU should make sure its foundations were solid before it started building more floors.

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