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World / Brussels briefing Print article | Email
Fischer outlines compromise on EU constitution
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin
Published: October 6 2003 18:49 | Last Updated: October 6 2003 18:49

Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, on Monday drew the outline of a compromise on a future European Union constitution but warned chaos would ensue if talks dragged on well into next year.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Berlin, Mr Fischer suggested a deal could be struck on the number of EU commissioners member states send to Brussels. But Germany would be less flexible over voting power in the Council of Ministers.

The two topics will be among the most contentious discussed at the inter-governmental conference that opened in Rome at the weekend. The 25 existing and future member states participating in the talks hope to reach an agreement on the treaty by December.

"We are not saying nothing can be changed. If the compromise can be improved, why not?" Mr Fischer said. "But this is different from setting up an entirely new intergovernmental conference to work on an entirely new draft."

The EU's founding members and the UK have argued for only minimal changes to the draft treaty drawn up before the summer by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's Convention on the future of Europe. But Poland and Spain have vigorously opposed voting rules they fear would dilute their influence.

Under the Convention's proposal, decisions would require support from at least half the member states, provided they represented 60 per cent of the population. Spain and Poland currently have almost as many votes as Germany, which is twice as populous.

"The double majority reflects the twin nature of the EU as a union of states and a union of people, it is the only sensible way to go," Mr Fischer said. "The six largest member states represent 80 per cent of the EU's population and gross domestic product, against 20 per cent for the remaining 19 members."

However, he hinted Germany might accept changes to the provision that would see member states give up their automatic right to appoint a commissioner: "I can understand if some countries have doubts about giving up their commissioner. We will have to talk about this."

Government officials said Germany could agree to the provision being scrapped, but it would insist on regaining the second commissioner it, together with France, the UK, Italy and Spain, gave up at the Nice summit of 2000.

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