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Germany: Foreign Minister Pushes for Stronger Europe, Warns Against Tinkering With Constitution

Prague, 26 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's foreign minister says Europe needs to be stronger in order to boost its ties with the United States.

In comments made during a visit to Prague, Joschka Fischer said the divisions over the Iraq war showed how difficult it is for Europe to speak with one voice on foreign policy.

But he said this is something Europe must learn to do.

And he said the U.S. need not worry about a stronger Europe. A weak, not a strong, Europe would pose more of a threat to trans-Atlantic ties, he said.

"For the European Union, our trans-Atlantic ties are a pillar of peace and stability. The U.S. is our most important partner. But this trans-Atlantic bridge will only be firm if the European pillar is strong and able to cooperate with its trans-Atlantic partner."

Fischer said the EU's planned expansion next year -- when it is set to admit 10 new members -- will overcome historical divisions. And he looked forward beyond 2004 to another wave of expansion.

"We promised Bulgaria and Romania, if it's possible, to end [EU] negotiations in 2007. This is a decision of the European Council. And this means we are talking about -- after 2007, 2008 -- a union of 27 and more."

Fischer also cautioned against reopening too many issues in the draft European constitution when the document is finalized at an Inter-Governmental Conference that starts in October.

The constitution aims to simplify the EU's institutions so they can function when the bloc expands to 25 members next year. But some smaller countries are worried the changes could give them less say and are lobbying for some changes.

Fischer called the constitution a good compromise balancing the needs of the EU's bigger and smaller states. And he warned that opening debate on too many points could derail the project.

"The basic principle must be: Whoever opens the consensus [to further debate] is responsible for finding a new consensus. We need a success. Without a success of the IGC in proper time, within the time limits the European Council in Thessaloniki has set [by March next year] -- without that, I think we are facing a really very terrible situation."

But Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said there's still room for negotiation.

"If it wasn't possible to open anything, then there wouldn't be any point in holding the Inter-Governmental Conference at all, because it would only confirm what was decided earlier and for that you only need to meet once," he said. "We're convinced that there's room for discussion, though it's clear we can't reopen many issues."

Diplomats from several smaller countries are due to meet in Prague next week to work out what changes they want.