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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 08:02 GMT
Papers press for progress in Nice

All the papers are urging European leaders to make progress on the second day of the EU summit in Nice, after Thursday's war of words between France and Britain over the planned European Rapid Reaction Force.

In its leader column, the The Express says it is a "shameful indictment of the EU's blinkered and selfish attitude" that countries like Poland and Hungary remain outside the Union, begging to be let in.

It says unless Nice produces a formula to ensure their swift entry, then the leaders of existing EU member states deserve the contempt of anyone keen to see democracy take root across all of Europe.

The Independent says the priority is an agreement to reform the system of voting and political vetoes.

Without this, the paper argues, no other change is possible.

It urges the British Government to think long term, not just of today's headlines.

If a sensible voting structure is agreed, it argues, then everything else can slot into place.

Back on track?

There is more bad news on the railways, according to the Financial Times.

Railtrack's new chief executive, Steve Marshall, has given his first interview to the paper since taking on the job - and admits it is unlikely that the rail crisis will be over before Easter.

He has also told the paper that Railtrack might have to carry out more annual track renewals and repair further cracks - raising the prospect of an even bigger bill than the 250m earmarked for repairs and compensation.

Hepatitis C

The Scotsman claims that hundreds of blood transfusion patients were infected with hepatitis C in the mid-1980s - because the government did not approve a testing programme.

The paper says minutes from meetings held by the directors of blood transfusion centres revealed that plans to carry out a study into hepatitis C were rejected because of "a lack of time and resources".

The issue is due to be discussed next week by the Scottish Parliament and the Haemophilia Society is calling for a full public inquiry.

Low profile campaign

The Times is looking ahead to the general election and reports that Tony Blair is planning to drop the "glitz and glamour" which marked his 1997 campaign.

Quoting a key Labour adviser, the paper says Mr Blair wants to counter his party's arrogant reputation by touring the country with a message of humility.

Celebrity supporters will be low profile and set speeches will be replaced with informal, "shirt-sleeved, spontaneous meetings".

The adviser tells the paper: "There will be less big picture stuff - it will be very touchy-feely."

Do you take this Guy?

It might be just another celebrity wedding, but none of the papers - not even the broadsheets - can resist speculating about Madonna's marriage to the film director Guy Ritchie in the Scottish Highlands later this month.

The Times profiles the Reverend Susan Brown, who is widely tipped to conduct the ceremony.

Known as Holy Spice, she trebled the congregation in her last church by adopting unusual tactics like roller-skating down the aisles.

The Guardian reports that residents in the remote Sutherland town of Dornoch are far from phased by the announcement.

One man tells the paper: "I'm still waiting for someone to tell me who Madonna is."

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