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Monday, 23 June, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
New constitution
Jack Straw and Tony Blair
If a camel is a horse designed by a committee then all across Europe politicians are looking at the new draft constitution and asking themselves a simple question:
is it one hump or two?

It has taken 16 months, 220 pages and considerable wrangling to produce what its author Valery Giscard D'Estaing calls a "synthesis" - others call it a dog's dinner.

Gordon Brewer spoke to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

GORDON BREWER:
What about these things you have called red lines which you won't negotiate?

JACK STRAW:
I made it clear in the House of Commons the other day that that article which is 124 which is called the passarel (UNCHECKED) article, by which in respect of what is called part 3 of the draft constitution, that's quite a lot. You could move from unanimity to qualify majority voting by an elaborate procedure by which the council will decide. That is not acceptable to us and we will seek to have it changed.

GORDON BREWER:
But there would have to be unanimity to get any of these changes, so why is that a problem?

JACK STRAW:
You have to make qualitative judgments on this. At Amsterdam, we agreed, sensibly, that the Union should be able to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in respect of asylum, at an appropriate time, which we are now likely to do. We are going to strengthen the provisions for qualified majority voting so we can ensure a level playing field on asylum regulations and practices, something for which I have long sought. But I have strong reservations about having a general rule by which you could shift from the veto power to qualified majority voting, albeit that it's quite an elaborate procedure, because I think we should have a settled constitutional arrangement, so far as possible, when and if we agree this constitution. That's something which Giscard also proposed, so I am going to have a little discussion with him about this particular article.

GORDON BREWER:
You said earlier that the federalists are losing this argument and the new constitution is a backward step from the kind of vision that people like Romano Prodi have a federal Europe. Why does Britain want a backward step from the way the European Union is at the moment?

JACK STRAW:
What I was doing was quoting Prodi. The people who have lost from this process are the federalists. One of those is Romano Prodi himself. He wanted to see a federal Europe, and it is he who went on record as saying that, in some respects, what the convention were recommending was a step backwards from his vision of a federal Europe. Now, I respect Romano, but I don't agree with him at all. I don't agree with the idea of a federal Europe.

GORDON BREWER:
But you said, "If it's a step back, good thing, too."

JACK STRAW:
Let me say, with respect, how? What this convention is doing, amongst other things, is giving for the first time a proper role to national parliaments to supervise, scrutinise and monitor proposals for draft EU laws, as they come forward, with the facility for a number of national parliaments working together to give a yellow card to the Commission.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Gordon Brewer
spoke to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.


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