Merkel's EU treaty hope dies

ANGELA Merkel, the German chancellor has admitted that her dream of reviving the dormant EU constitution at next week's summit in Brussels is all but dead.

It is a bitter blow to the first woman chancellor of Germany at the end of a year in which Berlin has been the president of the EU. Until recently she harboured high hopes of persuading sceptical members to sign up to a treaty. But yesterday she told the German parliament: "A deal is still not in sight."

All she could offer was the phrase usually applied to the Middle East; a roadmap to a deal in a distant future.

"We want to agree upon a roadmap next week," Mrs Merkel told the German parliament. "If this doesn't succeed, it will not yet be the downfall of Europe, but it will have ... extremely serious consequences."

Mrs Merkel spoke before a round of weekend consultations in Germany with remaining sceptics, including the leaders of the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic, and as the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, in Warsaw, urged Poland to drop objections.

Poland is a major stumbling block. It is threatening to veto a deal by refusing to accept changes to the voting system envisaged under the draft treaty.

A report by Germany to other member capitals listed key issues that it recommended still need discussion. Voting rights was not among them. Listed were: the question of EU symbols and the primacy of EU law, possible terminological changes, treatment of the fundamental rights charter, clarifying a joint foreign policy, clarifying boundaries between the EU and member states and the role of national parliaments in the bloc.

New rules on majority votes are designed to make it easier for the 27-member EU to make decisions by reducing individual countries' bargaining power. They call for a double majority where at least 55 per cent of the EU member states and at least 65 per cent of the EU population would agree in order for a law to pass.

Poland, with about 38 million citizens, maintains the new rules favour the bigger countries. Warsaw joined the EU under the Nice agreement, which gave it almost as many votes as Germany with its 82 million residents - and it does not want to relinquish that power.

Mr Sarkozy flew to Poland on Thursday to try to persuade Warsaw to drop its veto threat. "Poland cannot block the European Union," Mr Sarkozy was quoted as saying in the leading daily newspaper in Poland Gazeta Wyborcza. "If every one of us shows total intransigence ... the question arises: what are we doing together?"

Although he is on the way out, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, gave a strong hint on Wednesday he will resist efforts to resurrect elements of the failed constitution.

The 21-22 June summit marks the end of Germany's presidency of the bloc, and Mrs Merkel has been pushing leaders to agree on which parts of the draft can be salvaged and which need to be amended or dropped. The hope is to adopt a revised charter in 2009.

Part of the draft constitution that chafed Dutch and French voters was the enshrinement of "symbols" of the European Union into the charter - including the EU flag, Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the EU anthem and the euro as the official currency.

• COMPROMISE must be the goal of both Labour and Conservative politicians in dealing with the EU, a Conservative former cabinet minister warned in the Lords yesterday.

Lord Howe of Aberavon, speaking against a referendum on the constitution during a debate on the European Union, said no political party should allow itself to be bound by such a poll.

If the UK wanted to be a strong player in Europe, not at the margins "compromise will be essential if we are to achieve the final result.

"That would be as true for a Conservative government as it will be now for a Labour government. And if it is to be considered by a Conservative opposition that intends to be in government, then they need to recognise the case for compromise is just as strong."

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