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The BBC's Colin Blane in Nice
"There are signs of a break of the logjam"
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Robin Cook, UK Foreign Secretary
"We do want to secure a treaty that will pave the way for enlargement"
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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 12:35 GMT
Cook firm over tax veto
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Robin Cook: no surrender on tax veto
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has insisted that Britain will not surrender its veto on tax and social security issues at the European Union summit in Nice.

EU leaders are resuming their meeting in an attempt to agree a blueprint for the future direction, and likely expansion, of the organisation.

Delegates are now considering a new draft document produced by the French, following a series of private "confessional" meetings with EU leaders designed to explore areas of compromise.

But Mr Cook told Radio 4's Today programme that Britain did not intend to go back on long-standing commitments.

Our clear, it is consistent, it is understood and we won't budge

Robin Cook
"Our position is very clear, very robust," he said.

"I don't imagine they are going to ask us to give up our veto on tax in the course of this weekend, but we must be very clear we are not going to breach that red line.

"We said that nine months ago..we are not going to change in the next nine hours. We are not bluffing."

'Good progress'

Mr Cook and Prime Minister Tony Blair re-stated their intention to retain the veto during a Friday night meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.

Mr Cook said the British contingent had gone to Nice with a "constructive" mindset, adding that "good progress" had been made on issues including the European rapid reaction force.

French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac has been meeting EU leaders to work out a compromise
But he said no major compromises were offered at the "confessional" meeting.

"One of the advantages of our position is it is clear, it is consistent, it is understood and we won't budge," he said.

"I think it is likely we will get a treaty and it is important that we do."

The French want to agree a deal to streamline the union's operation and pave the way for almost doubling its size in the next few years.

They hoped to tackle opposition to relinquishing the national veto and move towards majority voting, in order to make an enlarged EU of up to 30 members viable.

Vote deal

Key features of the compromise deal are more voting power for the "big four" countries - Britain, Italy, France and Germany - and a slimmer EU Commission with no more than one commissioner per member state.

Mr Blair has told President Chirac he would be willing to give up one of Britain's two commissioners in future in exchange for a "satisfactory" deal on the UK's voting weight.

That would give the UK at least as many votes as France, Italy and Germany.

If the compromise is not accepted, EU leaders are expected to carry on negotiating in order to agree on a deal before they leave Nice.

New markets

On Friday they agreed a 2004 deadline for enlargement of the EU.

But unless all 15 member state leaders can reach a deal in the next two days, such a target will be unrealistic.

Mr Blair has said the UK would surrender its veto and move to majority voting on more than a dozen policies that he feels will benefit Britain, if the unanimity rule is removed.

They include decisions over trade in services, where majority accords could open up major new markets for UK businesses on the continent.

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See also:

09 Dec 00 | Europe
EU edges towards compromise
07 Dec 00 | Nice summit glossary
Charter of Fundamental Rights
07 Dec 00 | Europe
Press gets Nice fever
06 Dec 00 | Europe
Schroeder plea for Nice accord
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Row over 'secret EU superstate'
09 Dec 00 | Europe
Mr Nice Guy
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