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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Blueprint for Europe published
Tony Blair
Blair says he has his veto ready
Controversial plans for sweeping changes to the way the European Union works - including a call for an elected EU president - have been published.

The draft proposals from the convention on Europe's future also include an elected foreign minister and backing for a common foreign policy.

National governments will now spend the next few months trying to hammer out a final agreement on the plans.

The UK Government is facing calls from the opposition Tories for a referendum on the proposals.

The draft text, published on Monday, says the EU should have "legal personality" and adopt a legally-binding charter of rights covering a range of issues including labour and social policies.

DRAFT PROPOSALS
Powerful EU president
EU foreign minister
Common foreign policy
Legally-binding charter of rights
EU to have "legal personality"

The proposals set out a vision of how the EU will be run after 10 new countries join next year.

References to a "federal" Europe were dropped from the draft at Tony Blair's request after a meeting with convention chairman, former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

But although calls to rename the EU as "United Europe" have also been dropped, the concessions are unlikely to end calls from the Tories and some Labour MPs to hold a referendum on the proposals.

The government is resisting such calls, saying the convention's work was a "tidying up" exercise aimed at streamlining the way the EU works.
We are burying once and for all the fantasies of a Brussels super-state
Peter Hain

But there is a possibility that there will be attempts in the House of Lords, where the government does not have a majority, to push through a referendum plan.

Wales Secretary Peter Hain, the UK Government's representative on the convention, said the draft text showed the UK had made "good progress" in influencing the plans.

He said: "We are burying once and for all the fantasies of a Brussels super-state.

"Europe will remain a union of sovereign nation states with governments such as Britain's in charge."

He said the UK would battle efforts for cross-border social security measures and work to stop the new charter from changing domestic law.

Britain is also pleased that it has rebuffed calls for a common taxation policy.

Poll call

But Tory foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said the plans were much more than the "tidying up exercise".

He said the draft text represented a "step change" to the creation of the EU as "a political entity in its own right".

He said: "What we cannot understand is why the government is so insistent that it is not going to let the British people have their say."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Dr Vince Cable said: "It is for our Parliament - elected by the people of this country - to decide whether the new convention requires a referendum of the people.

"The Liberal Democrats would support a referendum if the convention proposes significant constitutional change.

"Unlike the Conservatives we have every confidence of winning a referendum on Europe because the British people are level-headed and pragmatic and recognise the benefits of being at the heart of Europe."

EUROPEAN CONVENTION
Chaired by Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Holding year-long discussions
Aims to simplify treaties
Trying to decide balance of power between Brussels and governments

The new EU president would be a serving or former prime minister of an EU country elected by the leaders of member states and would serve for at least two-and-a-half years.

On foreign policy, the draft says EU states should "actively and unreservedly" back a common foreign and security policy.

Veto

Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Valery Giscard d'Estaing chairs the convention
But Mr Hain said national governments would have a veto over foreign and defence policy.

Another president, of the European Commission, would also be elected by the European Parliament.

On the economy, the draft says: "The Union shall coordinate the economic policies of the member states, in particular by establishing broad guidelines for these policies."

The 148 pages of proposals have been drawn up over 15 months by the 105 members of the convention, including government ministers, Euro MPs, MPs and the European Commission.

The UK Government has said it will veto any plans which it believes are not in British interests.

The draft - more of which will be published this week - will be debated again by the convention this week and then be considered by EU leaders at a summit in Greece in June.

Expense

It is hoped a final agreement can be reached by the end of the year after an intergovernmental conference in the autumn.

The last thing Tony Blair needs right now is another row over Europe

Timothy Kirkhope, Tory MEP and a Conservative representative on the convention said the government had won concessions at the expense of other areas.

He said the charter on rights would force the NHS to employ doctors and nurses who may not speak English, make strike action easier and forbid the UK from extraditing murderers to countries where they may face the death penalty.

Mr Kirkhope said the proposals would also remove the UK Government's ability to veto plans for justice and home affairs, including asylum policy.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Carole Walker
"Critics say it will fundamentally change the way Britain is governed"



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Europe's constitution
26 May 03  |  Europe
Q&A: The UK, Europe and referendums
20 May 03  |  Politics


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