The European Union's convention opened its latest session on Thursday facing an uphill battle to please all sides of the constitutional debate.
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EU is heading
With the clock ticking down to an EU summit on 20 June in the Greek city of Salonika, convention chairman Valery Giscard d'Estaing has threatened to throw in the towel if there is no compromise in the two-day session in Brussels.
The former French president had high hopes for a constitution being generally approved with the main players on the 105-member convention.
But 18 of the 27 countries taking part in the convention upset the bid for consensus by lining up to reject any institutional changes to how the EU votes.
Countries suspicious of too much European integration, such as Britain, Scandanavian nations and eastern European countries that have only recently obtained their soverigntiy from the Soviet Union, have resisted many proposals.
The impasse led French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to declare the convention was in "crisis".
While receiving the Charlemagne Prize for fostering European unity last week, D'Estaing said Europe will be "damned" to lose its economic and cultural vigor unless it answers the question of where it is heading.
The time has come, he suggested, to decide if Europe is to be merely a free-trade zone or something more, something he called "a community of destiny."
Last month Giscard d'Estaing presented proposals including a full-time president to replace the EU's rotating leadership, an EU foreign minister, a slimmed-down European Commission and a new simplified voting system.
The plans sparked anger notably from smaller EU states which fear even greater domination by the EU heavyweights, and from the Commission which fears having its executive powers cut.
"The big member states claim that the European Union today needs new institutions," said Finnish government representative Teija Tiilikainen.
"We think for our part that there is no need to change the community method, which has the served European Union very well," she said.
The battle lines have also been drawn over proposals to end national vetoes in more areas of decision-making, which Britain for one firmly opposes.
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Federalists claim the whole veto system, already unwieldy with 15 members, would simply seize up when 10 more countries join in May next year.
The convention is due to hold its final session next week. Its draft constitution will then be taken up by the heads of government and thrashed out by an inter-governmental conference starting in the autumn.
- Council presidency : The European Council, grouping national leaders, would elect a president or chairman for a term of up to five years.
- Commission : The size of the Commission would be one member for each country, currently some countries have two.
- Foreign minister : The EU foreign minister would control the foreign aid budget, and conduct diplomacy. The minister would be a vice-president of the Commission, with access to its financial resources.
- Decision making : Decision-making on most issues would be by majority voting.
- Mutual defence clause : The constitution would contain a general solidarity clause providing for mutual assistance in case of attack.