EU fails to obtain voting unity

European Union leaders have remained far apart on a voting system for the expanding bloc but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would offer several proposals to try to break the deadlock.

    Berlusconi vowed he would put several solutions on the table

    Amid widespread gloom on the second day of an EU summit due to approve a first constitution for the bloc, Berlusconi told reporters on Saturday: "There is still great disagreement on the voting system. 

    "We are going to put several possible solutions on the table, not just from the presidency but suggested by several people. Each is a common sense solution that could make it possible to sign a treaty," he said. 

    Voting rights

    There was little optimism that a breakthrough was possible
    in the bare-knuckle fight over national voting rights, which
    pits EU giants Germany and France against Spain and Poland. 

    The charter is designed to ensure the EU can continue to
    function effectively after it expands into eastern Europe next
    year, with 10 new members joining the existing 15, swelling the total population to 450 million. 

    Berlusconi said he would put four different ideas to the
    leaders, each of which had support from groups of
    countries, but the main protagonists remained tough in public. 

    France and Germany have both said they would rather have no agreement, at the risk of a crisis, than accept a bad deal. 

    The row stems from one such treaty, agreed at a summit in Nice in 2000, which gave Poland and Spain nearly the same voting rights as Germany, whose population is twice as large as theirs. 

    "I give it a fair chance that the Italians will solve it. They will find a compromise but first we need a mini-crisis, and that also belongs to this process"

    Goran Persson,
    Swedish Prime Minister

    The new constitution would replace it with a system under which decisions would need to be backed by a majority of more than half of EU states, representing over 60% of its population. 

    "If it is not possible to agree on a change today, we shall wait. We really have to give Nice a chance," Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told reporters as he arrived for day-two meetings, which could drag into the night. 

    Optimism

    Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson was about the only
    voice of optimism among the summiteers after Friday's fruitless talks.

    "I give it a fair chance that the Italians will solve it," he told reporters. "They will find a compromise but first we need a mini-crisis, and that also belongs to this process."

    Some of the key antagonists met each other privately on
    Saturday morning, with Polish Minister Leszek Miller seeing
    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and due to meet French President Jacques Chirac afterwards.

    Under the Nice treaty, Spain and Poland have 27 votes each
    compared to 29 for Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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