Sunday, Dec 14, 2003
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By Vaiju Naravane
Efforts by the Italian presidency to propose compromise formulas failed and shortly after lunch, the presidency officially admitted that the deadlocked negotiations had completely broken down with no hope of an outcome.
The talks failed because Poland and Spain which had done some hard bargaining to obtain a disproportionate number of votes at the Nice summit in 2000, refused to give up some of that power.
Under the Nice Treaty, Spain and Poland, which together account for 40 million population, have 27 votes each, while Germany with a population of 82 million has 29 votes.
France, Britain and Italy, which too have large populations, have only 29 votes each.
The new constitution attempted to do away with this imbalance by proposing a simple majority vote that would represent at least 60 per cent of Europe's population of 450 million people.
But this would have meant Spain and Poland giving up some of their clout and both these countries refused. France and Germany, on the other side of the divide, also refused to budge, diplomats said.
The closed-door debate was suspended on Saturday morning as the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who was presiding over the session, went into private talks with several E.U. leaders in a last-ditch attempt to break the stalemate.
"The IGC (Inter-Governmental Conference) is finished," an Italian diplomat said shortly after lunch at which Mr Berlusconi formally asked the Irish presidency to take over the constitution talks.
The next moves by the E.U. are uncertain. In the immediate instance, Ireland will have to pick up the pieces when it assumes the presidency on January 1.
According to a diplomat, E.U. leaders discussed the possibility of allowing for a period of reflection instead of immediately handing the negotiations over to the Irish presidency. Some fear that following the collapse of the talks, a core group of countries led by France and Germany will go their own way in a "two-speed" E.U.
For the time-being, however, E.U. affairs will continue to be governed by the 2000 Nice Treaty, a badly flawed and generally unacceptable document that is likely to lead to decision-making delays and structural paralysis within the body.
The text of the new constitution drawn up by a specially appointed convention proposed some notable innovations that have won general support, including an elected president and foreign minister to give the E.U. a much higher profile on the world stage.
However, its suggestion that the European Commission be slimmed down to 15 voting members after the enlargement angered smaller countries, which see the E.U.'s executive branch as a guarantor of their interests.
That issue has now been placed on the backburner.
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