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Delegates agree on draft constitution for European Union

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union delegates agreed Friday on a draft constitution that details how the coalition of nations will be run as it adds new members and attempts to evolve into a world power.

The draft, completed after 16 months of debate, does not resolve key issues such as whether to give members the right to veto foreign policy or tax decisions and it does not include a mention of Europe's Christian heritage as the Vatican and others had requested.

Delegates to the 105-member drafting convention agreed to leave out the controversial issues so the draft would be ready for debate in time for an EU summit next week in Greece.

The end result will determine whether the union remains a loose alliance of sovereign countries or moves toward a super-state.

"We have found a point of balance," said ex-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the chairman of the convention. "This text stands as the foundation of a treaty embodying the European Constitution."

Many delegates said the draft is a watershed moment in the shaping of a new Europe, with new powers to make the 15-nation EU run more effectively as it takes in 10 new members next year.

"This text first of all is a legal revolution, with no precedent," said Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the constitution would give Europe a more prominent role in international affairs. "We are setting up a new political age, more efficient, more democratic, assuming (Europe's) full role on the world stage," he said.

Britain and Spain led many EU nations in emphasizing that the draft would need to be changed when EU governments review it later this year.

"This will be a good foundation for final negotiations," said Britain's chief negotiator Peter Hain.

Among the touchy issues to be decided is whether to expand majority voting on decisions in foreign and defense policy and other areas like taxation.

Britain and other countries have vowed to block any attempts to drop a veto on foreign policy or taxation. Not wanting the convention to end in failure, Giscard d'Estaing proposed the panel take up that issue in July, when it is set to complete the final part of the charter.

Once approved by EU leaders, the constitution would have to be ratified by all members to become valid. Some countries, such as Spain, Ireland and Denmark, already have promised to submit it to voters in a referendum.

Czechs vote on EU membership

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Czechs began voting Friday in a two-day referendum on whether to join the European Union, a move supporters say will finally bring the nation back into the Western fold and improve living standards for future generations. Polls show a majority of Czechs favor the idea, but the support was far from overwhelming.

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