RUSSELS, Dec. 13 ó The leaders of 25
current and future members of the European Union failed to reach
agreement on Saturday on a draft constitution, stumbling on a
problem familiar to Americans: how to apportion power among large
and small states.
At issue was a proposal to discard a voting system agreed upon
three years ago that gave Spain, a member of the union, and Poland,
which joins next year, almost as much voting weight each as Germany,
which has more than twice the population of either. Spain and Poland
insisted on retaining the expanded rights.
Germany's chancellor, Gerhard SchrŲder, called the summit meeting
"largely a failure," and said, "We don't have a consensus on a
constitution here because one or another country put the European
ideal behind national interest."
Officially, the leaders said they would meet to try again next
year. But the failure touched off bitter recriminations that
underscored differences between current and soon-to-be members of
the union. The war in Iraq also played a part: the deep divisions in
"old" and "new" Europe over whether to go along with the United
States' military action contributed to the wedges driving the
France's president, Jacques Chirac, said the failure galvanized
his interest in creating a smaller union in the form of a "pioneer
group" ó perhaps of the union's six founding countries, but open to
others. He framed it as something that would accelerate integration.
"It would be a motor that would set an example," he said at a news
conference after the talks. "It would allow Europe to go faster,
But others read it as a move toward scaling back Europe's
unification. Mr. SchrŲder, acknowledging the temptation to do so,
said, "We will work that it not happen."
Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, chairman of the talks,
agreed. "I am not a partisan of the idea of six countries," he
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who had sought
unsuccessfully to soften the Spanish and Polish positions, said, "It
is in my view entirely sensible that we take the time to get it
right." He added, "To look at this in sort of apocalyptic terms is,
I think, rather misguided."
Poland's prime minister, Leszek Miller, left Brussels and was
expected to call a cabinet meeting to discuss the outcome, Polish
The meeting was not without its successes. On Friday, the leaders
took a first important step toward striking a deal on the
constitution's draft text, the subject of almost two years of
discussion, when they agreed unanimously to a common defense policy
that included planning abilities independent of NATO.
The constitution is considered crucial in light of the coming
enlargement, by which the union, which began as a customs union of
Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands,
will become a 25-member club, bringing into its embrace many former
East Bloc states, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and
"The striking thing is that 95 percent of the issues are largely
resolved," said Kevin Featherstone of the European Institute at the
London School of Economics.
He said it was the very fact that agreements had been reached in
most areas that had narrowed the room for the usual horse trading
that lies at the heart of European compromises. With little else to
decide, the voting rights issue became "crystal clear."
But he also said the stewardship of the talks might have
contributed to the failure. "Berlusconi has this
putting-your-foot-in-it tendency," he said.
As with the American leadership in Philadelphia in the 1780's,
Europe's leaders are acting because they recognize that the
challenges facing an enlarged union require more efficient
government structures. Recent moves, including the introduction of
the euro and the creation of a central bank, have fueled the drive
beyond simple economic integration toward common policies in defense
and foreign affairs.
The analogy with the United States, which moved in the 1780's
from a confederation to a stronger national government under the
Constitution, has not escaped the Europeans. When Valťry Giscard
d'Estaing, the former French president and chairman of the
convention that framed the draft constitution, left for vacation
last summer, he took along a copy of David McCullough's best-selling
biography of John Adams, the author of the Massachusetts
Constitution, the oldest such text still in use.
Mr. McCullough said by phone from his home in Massachusetts that
in Philadelphia, "all the small states were afraid of the large
states; they feared they would take the ball and run with it." To
provide equal weight in the councils of power, the founding fathers
created the Senate, where all states are equally represented. "They
called it the balancing wheel," he said.
Europe's leaders toyed in the past with the idea of transforming
the Council of Europe into a kind of senate. But the idea was
discarded in favor of a voting system agreed upon three years ago in
Nice, France, that gave mid-sized countries like Poland and Spain
almost as many votes each in the European Council as heavyweight
Poland and Spain are now relatively isolated, because the Nice
system has been jettisoned in favor of an arrangement known as the
double majority, which seeks to assure the rights of smaller states
by defining a voting majority as at least half of the member states
representing at least 60 percent of the total population.
Poland's foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, had dug in
his heels on Saturday morning. "If it is not possible to agree on
the change today we shall wait," he said before the day's talks
Large countries like France, Germany and Britain, which embraced
the double majority because of a worry about the risk of giving too
much voting power to the smaller states, have also built measures
into the constitution that would assure their continued
Largely at British insistence, the states will retain veto rights
over fiscal matters, leaving the door open to divisive issues like
one that erupted recently over decisions by France and Germany, two
of the largest nations, to run budget deficits that exceed limits
governing the euro.
Veto rights will also be kept in matters of foreign and defense
policy and changes to European treaties.
For the moment, other differences appear to have been
overshadowed by the issue of voting weights. Some countries,
including Poland, have in the past insisted that the preamble of the
constitution evoke Europe's Christian heritage. The draft text
refers to Europe's "cultural, religious and humanist heritages."
Mr. Featherstone, of the European Institute, said there was not a
sense of immediate crisis if the states failed, "but there is a
climate of ideas across Europe that something must be done."
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