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EU: Prodi Raises Specter Of Further Preconditions For Enlargement

Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, today outlined his views on the "Future of Europe" debate, expected to dominate the agenda at the European Union's Laeken summit in mid-December. Prodi said the commission puts great emphasis on entrenching and extending supranational decision-making within the EU. He went on to indicate that without these "deepening" reforms, enlargement might not succeed. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 5 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, today said enlargement risks "paralyzing" the European Union unless the bloc carries out further institutional reforms.

Prodi put particular emphasis on the need to extend the practice of "qualified majority voting" -- removing national veto rights from decision-making. He said that an EU of 25 to 30 member nations, in which most decisions are made by unanimity, would be "impotent."

Prodi made the comments today in Brussels while presenting the commission's views on the "Future of Europe" debate, which will top the agenda at the EU's mid-December (14-15 December) summit in Laeken, Belgium. The summit is expected to adopt a declaration launching a "convention," made up of representatives of EU member state governments, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the commission itself, as well as various other pan-EU bodies.

Representatives of candidate countries' governments and parliaments will also be invited to attend.

The convention, which will be convened in early 2002, will spend a year debating further institutional reforms within the EU, an improved division of labor between the EU, member state, and regional levels, and simplifying the basic EU treaties. At the end of its work, the convention will report to the EU member governments, which will decide in 2004 which of the convention's proposals to adopt.

Commission officials and a number of member state governments have stressed the upcoming "Future of Europe" debate will not constitute a new precondition for enlargement.

Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner in charge of constitutional reform, today confirmed the institutional reforms agreed to in last year's Nice Treaty are sufficient for enlargement. However, like Prodi, Barnier now also appears to say that the EU needs further reforms if enlargement is to succeed in the long term.

"The commission takes an extremely clear and deliberate line on this. The mission of the convention in question is to devise a credible strategy so that an enlarged, reunified Europe is capable of developing, is capable of pursuing its aim of political, economic, and social integration. At this point, I want to restate our feeling that the Treaty of Nice and the [propositions for institutional reform] within it -- if they are ratified -- that's the minimum needed to proceed with enlargement. In the medium- and long-term, the institutions of Nice will not allow this enlargement to succeed."

A commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the commission still considers enlargement "irreversible." However, he acknowledges that there is a danger that -- should the "Future of Europe" debate fail to create sufficient opportunities for greater political, economic, and social integration -- fears could spread among EU citizens that enlargement threatens present levels of integration among the 15 current member countries.

A commission background paper, also released today, notes that many EU citizens who have visited a special "debating chamber" website launched by the commission have expressed fears about the consequences of enlargement.

Addressing the wider context of EU reform, the European Commission document presented by Prodi today says the convention should establish close and effective links with the broader public debate in Europe. It says representatives of the convention should regularly brief EU member governments on the progress made. At the end of the convention's mandate it should produce a text, adopted by the consensus of all the participants.

According to Prodi, the European Commission wants the convention to identify the "essential provisions" of the numerous EU treaties and incorporate them into a Basic Treaty. In terms of institutional reform, the commission appeals for greater use of the so-called "community method" -- as opposed to the currently prevailing "intergovernmental" approach, under which member state governments make the most important decisions -- in areas like monetary and economic policy, police and judicial cooperation, and foreign policy.

The commission also calls for greater transparency and openness to the public in the work of the Council of Ministers, made up of member-state representatives.