Friday 26 January 2007
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Germany to relaunch plan for EU constitution


By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Davos
Last Updated: 1:18am GMT 25/01/2007

Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to use Germany's European Union presidency to relaunch the European constititution, preparing a concrete plan to be agreed by Tony Blair and fellow leaders at a summit in June.

Ms Merkel warned the continent would cease to count as a global force if the 27 member states tried to go it alone.

"I am going to do everything I can as presidency holder to set the constitutional process in motion again. In June we will put forward a plan," she said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in speech which will dismay Downing Street.

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"We're facing a change in the global power structure. The arrival of China and India as dynamic economies integrated into the world market alone means that a third of mankind has stepped onto the world stage as co-actors," she said.

"When the European Union was founded, roughly 21pc of the world's population was European, today it is 11pc, and by the middle of this century it'll be just 7pc. We can no longer afford to be fragmented," she said.

Mrs Merkel's passionate plea for a fresh effort to revive the defunct constitution is certain to rattle Downing Street, both Numbers 10 and 11, where it had been hoped that a mini-treaty passed by normal EU procedures would suffice, without requiring a referendum.

The French and Dutch governments are also deeply uneasy, knowing that it would be extremely difficult to push through a new version of the text already rejected by crushing popular majorities in both countries.

Mrs Merkel said the current EU system had become unworkable under the current rules, adding that there was no chance of pressing ahead with the next round of expansion - Croatia, Serbia, and Turkey - until the structure had been changed.

EU diplomats said there was a degree of self-interest in the German position since the constitution enormously increases the power of the EU's biggest states, with ministerial votes and euro-MP seats allocated on lines that better reflect population.

The former draft would have given Germany a de facto veto over EU legislation when operating in concert with a few close allies, establishing it as the clear master of the system.

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