Impasse over voting power buries EU summit
* EU bloc opens way for two-speed Europe
BRUSSELS: A landmark summit meant to agree on a first constitution for a European Union expanding beyond the former Iron Curtain collapsed on Saturday when leaders failed to bridge wide differences over members’ voting rights.
Spain and Poland blocked plans to give big countries, led by Germany and France, more voting power in a system that would take greater account of population size.
The impasse plunged the wealthy 15-nation bloc into crisis, five months before it is due to admit 10 new members — mainly formerly communist states — in the biggest expansion in its history. .
“Sadly the disagreement was total when we moved to the voting system,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a news conference after cutting short two days of tough wrangling when he saw no compromise was acceptable.
But British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to play down the impasse.
“To look at this in apocalyptic terms is rather misguided,” Blair said. “I think, ultimately, it will be resolved.”
‘Faster Europe’: Pioneer groups of European Union countries might forge ahead with closer integration following the failure of a summit to agree on a new constitution for the bloc, French President Jacques Chirac said on Saturday.
Other EU member states, including Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, indicated they too could link up to a hard core of like-minded nations, raising the possibility of a two-speed Europe emerging from the Brussels stalemate.
Chirac told reporters he hoped to see a cluster of countries work together on closer European construction and cooperation.
“This will provide an engine, an example that will allow Europe to go faster, further and better,” Chirac said, pointing to defence, economic policy and justice as three areas where certain countries could work closer together within the Union.
A precedent has already been set with 12 of the 15 current members adopting the single currency, the euro, and a vanguard of five countries led the way in the mid-1980s for open border regulations that others signed up to later.
Chirac said he was not setting himself the goal of creating a two-speed Europe, but German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said this was inevitable without a swift deal on the constitution.
“If we do not reach a consensus in the foreseeable future, then a two-speed Europe will emerge. That would be the logic of such a final failure,” he told a news conference.
Diplomatic sources said afterwards that the EU’s six founder members — France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — were preparing a joint call for closer integration in the wake of the breakdown. .
However, Berlusconi denied that his government wanted to sign up to such an appeal.
“I don’t believe that it serves any purpose to form groups with new ideas,” he told a news conference. “I am not a supporter of an initiative by the six founders.”
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said there would be no joint declaration on Saturday.
“But that does not stop certain countries from thinking this one over together,” he said. “We will continue this great European adventure with other countries.”
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt echoed the sentiment. “We will have contacts in the months to come with other countries who want to accelerate European integration,” he said.
The six founders formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and the European Economic Community in 1957.
As the Union has grown, so some of the original group have expressed frustration at the increasingly complex decision-making process that can lead to years of delay before policy is implemented. —Agencies