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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 22:48 GMT
Merkel faces tough EU challenge
By Steven Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel is trying to woo constitution sceptics
The idea of an EU constitution is hard to sell in many parts of Europe - but that has not stopped German Chancellor Angela Merkel from trying.

She invited a small group of journalists from across the continent, including the BBC, to her offices in Berlin, to stress the importance of having a constitutional treaty.

"If nothing happens, if we keep the status quo, the European Union won't be able to enlarge... so I'm putting all my efforts into security a new treaty," she said.

Mrs Merkel spoke of the need for road maps, for a "common willingness" of EU member states. The way she saw it, there was no other way.

"But how," I asked her, "are you going to convince the sceptics in Britain?" (Not to mention the French and the Dutch, who had already voted "no" to a draft constitution).

I don't like 'what if' questions
Angela Merkel
"It won't be easy," she admitted. And then came the hard sell.

"The constitutional treaty actually addresses the objections and reservations the British public has about there being too much Europe," Mrs Merkel said.

"For example under a treaty, the role of national parliaments would be strengthened. A constitutional treaty would create a Europe much closer to what citizens actually want," she said.

I asked her: "But what if you fail? "What if you don't secure the constitution you're looking for?"

She smiled. "I don't like 'what if' questions," she said.

'To Do' list

We were sitting in the banqueting hall of the Chancellery, just across the road from the Reichstag.

Built just a few years ago, the Chancellery is a massive building - eight times the size of the White House in Washington, making it one of the biggest government buildings in the world.

It is a reflection, perhaps, of the important role Germany believes it plays on the world stage - especially this year, with Germany holding both the EU and G8 presidencies.

With the diplomatic spotlight on the country, reviving the idea of an EU constitution is right at the top of Mrs Merkel's "To Do" list.

Her plan is to consult each EU member state on the subject and hammer out a new draft treaty that would be acceptable to all.

It promises to be her toughest challenge.

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