Summit seeks a more democratic union

BRUSSELS – After a decade of hit-and-miss tinkering with reforms, the EU nations launch another round of negotiations this week to make their club a better-run, more democratic outfit whose work is more relevant to the average European. Since 1990, such reform efforts have made only modest progress because of disagreements over what the future EU should be: A US-style federation with strong executive, a constitution, a bill of rights and full-fledged legislative assembly; or an economic club with a limited political agenda? At a two-day summit in Brussels starting tomorrow, the 15 EU leaders will issue a Future of Europe declaration outlining where the EU may be headed. The aim is to keep it functioning smoothly after its membership balloons to 27 and at the same give it more political clout. Wary of rushing into acrimony, the EU leaders will take a long-term approach this time: They will appoint representatives of EU governments, legislatures, the European Parliament and the EU head office to distill reform ideas to be debated in more detail in 2004. This week’s declaration, drafted by the summit host, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, waxes poetic about European integration and the peace and prosperity this has brought. By expanding eastward in the years ahead, it says, the EU will turn over the darkest page in European history: World War II and the Cold War division that followed. However, it also sees failings: The EU is often seen as a red tape-choked ivory tower, aloof from everyday concerns about migration, cross-border crime, pollution, health and safety and unemployment. It has no ready-made solutions but offers ideas on how to make the EU more effective: – More majority voting to accelerate decision-making. Unanimity is still the rule in sensitive areas such as taxation, social security and immigration, and can result in delays on major initiatives. After considerable arm-twisting this week, Italy dropped its veto of EU-wide arrest warrants – part of a package of anti-terrorist measures. Greece is still threatening to veto expansion if divided Cyprus is left behind. – France and Germany back an EU constitution with a bill of rights, but not Britain, Denmark or Sweden. – More powers for the EU Executive Commission and the European Parliament, the 626-member EU assembly, which now has no say in foreign and security policies. The Benelux nations, Italy and Germany prefer a stronger Commission, but not Denmark and France. – The Future of Europe draft also suggests making the EU more democratic by electing the Commission president and turning the decision-making Council of Ministers into a second chamber of Parliament, whose meetings would be open to the public. We’re hoping to resolve this question at the summit, the European diplomat said, adding, however, that the rapid reaction force will be declared operational whether there’s an agreement or not.