Germany, Italy stand firm on EU voting rights

 

The leaders of Italy and Germany said today they would not give way on the vexed issue of voting rights in an expanded European Union, ahead of key meetings next week to agree a draft European constitution.

European Union leaders meet next week to try to finalise the constitution, designed to ensure the bloc can function effectively when it expands eastwards from 15 to 25 members next May and its population grows to 450 million.

But agreement has been threatened by the determination of Spain and new entrant Poland, to hold out for a deal keeping a voting rights system agreed in Nice in 2000 that gives them almost the same weight as France and Germany despite much smaller populations.

German Chancellor Mr Gerhard Schroeder said he and Italian Prime Minister Mr Silvio Berlusconi, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of the year, both agreed they were not prepared to accept the Spanish and Polish demands.

"I am personally very glad that the Italian presidency sees the question of voting rights exactly as Germany, namely that it has to stay as the Convention agreed," he told reporters after a meeting with Mr Berlusconi.

"This is a point on which we are not prepared to move."

In Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Mr Jose Maria Aznar said he had yet to hear a counterproposal from Mr Berlusconi.

Asked if he believed Mr Berlusconi was doing his part to find a new agreement, he told a news conference that Italy "has not put any proposal on the table that we can study." Mr Berlusconi said it would be better to put off a deal rather than reaching an unsatisfactory agreement. "It would be a big mistake to agree a convention at any price that would not guarantee Europe institutions able to make decisions and function as we would want," he said.