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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 13:48 GMT
Constitution 'key for EU success'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the European Parliament
Angela Merkel has set out an ambitious six-month programme
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Europe it faces a "historic failure" if it does not revive the deadlocked European constitution.

Setting out her plans for Germany's presidency of the EU, she said the bloc should agree on a new charter before the 2009 European elections.

She said the EU was a success story, embodying the continent's values of freedom, variety and tolerance.

She set out an ambitious programme for the next six months.

But the constitution is one of Germany's highest priorities.

"The reflection pause is over. By June, we must reach a decision on what to do with the constitution," the German chancellor told MEPs.

"It is in the interest of Europe, its member states and its citizens, to bring this process to a successful conclusion by the next European Parliament elections in early 2009."

We need clear delineation of the functions of Europe and the member states
Angela Merkel

Mrs Merkel also committed herself to progress on energy security and climate change, a global trade deal, a new partnership agreement with Russia, and greater peace efforts for the Middle East.

In contrast with the line taken by the previous German government, she told MEPs that closer co-operation with the US, including freer trade, was "in the highest interests of Europe".

She vowed to press the US to join a post-Kyoto Protocol climate change agreement.

She said Europe must "accelerate the peace process" in the Middle East, must be united in its approach to Iran's nuclear programme, and must work for peaceful development in Afghanistan.

She also said it was "worthwhile and clever to invest in Africa, not just economically but politically", and promised to prepare the ground for an EU-African summit.

Reform urgent

This greater coherence in EU foreign policy, she said, demanded that the EU had its own foreign minister.

The proposal for a foreign minister was part of the draft EU constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters 18 months ago. The constitution was also supposed to simplify working arrangements and decision-making.

The German presidency will... make a concerted effort to drive forward the EU reform process
German presidency programme

Supporters of structural reform say it is the only way to keep the EU functioning after its enlargement from 15 to 27 members in the past few years.

But opponents say EU leaders should not ignore the wishes of Dutch and French voters who said "No".

Mrs Merkel pointed out that some of the most sceptical countries, like Britain, were also those most in favour of EU enlargement.

"Great Britain is still interested in new members being given a chance," she said. "The western Balkans is a region to which we must give some prospects... [but this] can't be done on the basis of the current treaty."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signalled his support for Germany's position, calling for a "common road map toward an institutional settlement" by 2009.

Germany's leadership has been keenly awaited by pro-Europeans, who hope it can inject new momentum into the EU, correspondents say.

But despite the chancellor's ambitious approach, Germany has been dampening down expectations that it will be able to find definitive answers to the constitutional impasse, says the BBC's Alix Kroeger in Strasbourg.

In March, EU leaders will mark the European Union's 50th birthday with a Berlin declaration on its fundamental values and aims - but do not expect a big fanfare, says our correspondent.

That is not Mrs Merkel's style, and the EU is not in much of a party mood.

Chancellor Merkel announces her plans

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