NEWS

EU ‘has won the struggle over cohesion’

European Union leaders, gathered for their biannual summit at the Porto Carras hotel resort, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Thessaloniki, yesterday approved a draft European Constitution presented by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who headed the European Convention that drafted the document. «A great chapter in the evolution of the European Union has been completed,» Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis told reporters at the end of the discussions yesterday afternoon. Giscard d’Estaing called the draft European Constitution «the seed… in the evolution (of the EU) toward a more ambitious direction.» Beginning in October, an Intergovernmental Conference will discuss the draft Constitution and will shape a final document before 10 new members join the EU next May. Despite enthusiastic reactions by UK officials that they had succeeded in burying the federalist agenda, the Constitution, even in its draft form, enhances the powers of the European Commission and, especially, the European Parliament, relative to those of the European Council. It is still far from a breakthrough document, with some critics calling it «riddled with botched compromises, anomalies and absurdities.» Simitis called it «the result of compromise… but it is an excellent compromise.» The Constitution notably proposes a full-time EU president to replace the current six-month rotating presidency, a foreign minister who would take on the combined roles now played by EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, and a European Commission with only 15 executive members. The EU leaders also agreed on closer cooperation on immigration, rejecting proposals backed by the UK and Denmark to set up «safe areas» for refugees in conflict areas; approved a draft report on security and defense by Solana, who will present a final draft by the end of the year; talked about relations with the United States; and agreed on accelerating the development of trans-European networks. They called, in strong terms, on Iran and North Korea to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs and urged Middle East countries to condemn terrorism. But they failed to match the United States in pledging $1 billion next year to a global fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, settling instead for some vague expression of commitment to providing healthcare for people in poor countries. Germany and the Netherlands, citing budgetary constraints, blocked the measure. Overall, European leaders appeared satisfied with the results of the summit. Summing up Greece’s presidency, Simitis said that «the past six months were a struggle (over) the cohesion of Europe. We won that struggle.» Protesters who tried to reach the site of the summit were repelled by police. However, Foreign Minister George Papandreou met a delegation of protesters last night, telling them, «We are glad to receive from you new ideas, new proposals… we very much want to be engaged with civil society and to listen to our citizens’ views.»