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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 09:49 GMT
Hain denies superstate move
Peter Hain
Mr Hain will be representing the UK at the convention
Europe Minister Peter Hain has dismissed suggestions that plans to overhaul the plethora of treaties between EU members takes the union a step nearer to becoming a European superstate.

Thursday sees the launch of a convention that is charged with finding ways of radically reforming the way the EU carries out its business.

The BBC has got a constitution and so has the Labour Party

Peter Hain
The convention, chaired by former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, may well present a constitutional text to the leaders of EU member states.

But Mr Hain argued the word 'constitution' should not cause undue concern and said the government was approaching the convention with a positive attitude.

Asked if the government would back a constitution for Europe, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If it means a blueprint for a superstate then certainly not.

"If it means clarifying the tangled web of European treaties that are very difficult for the average citizen to get to grips with ... then fine."

Mr Hain said people should approach the issue in a calm manner and not be over-preoccupied with the word 'constitution'.

"The BBC has got a constitution and so has the Labour Party," he said.

Economic tests

Mr Hain also sought to play down last week's controversy over comments he made in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro which prompted speculation of a government policy split on the issue.

He was quoted saying a euro referendum could be held as early as spring next year.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing heads the new convention
"We're going to conduct an economic assessment, nothing I have said or commented upon last week, the week before, or today, alters that policy," he said.

"It is really really important we take this decision in a careful, hardheaded fashion. That we will do."

He added: "I fully support their [the Treasury's] position," he said.

Mr Hain, alongside Conservative MP David Heathcoat-Amory and Labour's Gisela Stuart, will represent the UK at the first meeting of the convention in Brussels.

Along with their European counterparts they will try to come up with proposals to help the union become more democratic and more efficient.

The European Union needs to reform the way it works before the expected admission of 10 new member states in 2004.

Distribution of power

It also needs to persuade the citizens of Europe that it is relevant to their daily lives.

The convention has been asked to make recommendations on the best way forward - what the EU should do and why.

It will examine which powers and responsibilities should be concentrated in Brussels and which should be given to the member states.

The convention itself is expected to meet around 20 times over the coming year.

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The EU has to change"
Anti-EU Danish People's Party's Peter Skaarup
"I think it is a very bad idea to move the power to the EU"
British Conservative MEP, Timothy Kirkhope
"We need to have a new approach"
The BBC's Chris Morris
"It is a fairly ambitious project"
See also:

24 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Hain appointed to key EU convention
20 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Minister's licence to speak
20 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw backs 'euro bully' Hain
13 Dec 01 | Europe
Europe's blueprints for reform
15 Dec 01 | Europe
Profile: Giscard d'Estaing
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
European Union
20 Feb 02 | Interviews
Frank Field on 'Fall Guy' Peter Hain
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