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Daily Archives: June 22, 2007

EU summit locked in treaty deadlock

Image  by Lorne Cook*

European Union leaders were locked in intense talks on the second day of a summit yesterday seeking to break a deadlock with Britain and Poland over a new reform treaty.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the current EU president, met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in an effort to ease concerns about his country's objections.
Blair entered the European Council building on foot and, like Polish President Lech Kaczynski, ignored reporters as he strode in for the first of many bilateral meetings on the summit sidelines.

"We will exchange our views and assessments of the situation. We shall also work on the text. I can't tell you more for the moment, only that we shall continue to work hard," Merkel said.
The EU is looking for a new way to simplify decision-making after the collapse of its proposed constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
After months of negotiations, the Germany presidency, which runs until the end of next week, distributed a new draft text of its "reform treaty" to its EU partners for the first time on Tuesday.
The treaty is meant to simplify the way the 27-member bloc makes decisions as it expands, establish a "foreign minister" and install a longer-term president to replace the cumbersome and expensive rotating system in place now.
Merkel did not say what modifications might be made to the document but it was likely that a new draft would be thrashed out at a working lunch.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy did get one concession out of the Germans, his spokesman said, convincing them to drop a reference in a new treaty to "free and undistorted competition".
However the obtacles to an agreement remained formidable.
When asked whether he was optimistic that a solution would be found Friday, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said: "No, I'm not sure."
As the summit has approached, Britain has taken an increasingly tougher line, warning that it will not cede control over foreign policy, the judicial and police system, or tax and social security.
It also opposes making a Charter on Fundamental Rights — the EU's civil, political, economic and social rights — legally binding because it could enshrine the right of workers to strike.
But diplomats said that this issue could be overcome.
However Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country is one of 18 to have ratified the constitution and is keen to see much of it retained, expressed concern that Britain had hardened its stance.
"This is a development that should worry all of us, including Britain," she said, adding that London's problems are issues that "go to the core of what we understand the European Union to be."
Poland, with apparently fading support from the Czech Republic, has demanded changes to the way votes would be shared among the EU countries.
It maintains that the "double majority" system, proposed by Merkel from the old constitution and pencilled in as part of the future treaty, favours big countries like Germany.
Rumours suggest Kaczynski's talks with his EU partners have been difficult so far. After his talks with Merkel, one source said: "The chances of success are no better than before."
The Netherlands, for its part, is still demanding more power for national parliaments and wants to see the final treaty document before it decides whether to call a possibly perilous referendum.
"If we strip the treaty bare, if all the elements of substance were to disappear, we would refuse this new treaty," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's longest-serving leader.
For Merkel, as her presidency nears its end, time is running out. She wants to unveil the broad outlines of a treaty agreement and submit it to a intergovernmental conference next month to finalize the details.
This would leave a year for countries to ratify it so that public confidence in the European project will not be undermined during European Parliament elections in 2009.

Venezuela’s Chavez mulls buying submarines during Moscow visit

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday he might purchase some Russian submarines when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month in Moscow. "What's so strange about us buying submarines," Chavez, a virulent critic of the United States, asked in a televised speech. "I don't know if we'll buy them, but if we do it shouldn't shock anybody."
If a deal is done, it could chill the tone of a summit between Putin and US President George W. Bush slated for early July.
The remarks followed a Foreign Ministry spokesman's annoncement that Chavez would forgo the June 28-30 summit in Asuncion of the Mercosur trade bloc to meet with Putin in Moscow. Chavez "had a standing commitment in Moscow by invitation of president Putin when he received the Mercosur invitation," the spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Amid reports that Venezuela and Russia were mulling an arms deal, the spokesman said Chavez, Putin and their foreign ministers would tackle an agenda that is "for the most part economic, to ratify and deepen existing agreements."
The issue of a Venezuelan purchase of Russian submarines "is not on the agenda, but is being studied," the spokesman said.
"Russia is a possible supplier and Venezuela is a potential buyer, but nothing is concrete so far," the source said.
Chavez later told a televised meeting with local officials that he was surprised at reporters' questions about a possible submarine purchase by his government.
"They're making all this noise because Venezuela is going to buy some submarines. And I told them, 'Why not?'" Chavez said without actually confirming or denying the rumor.
"We've got half a million square kilometers of (Caribbean) sea, to the north we've got Puerto Rico, in other words the empire (United States), and France in the western Caribbean islands. We've got a huge sea," he said apparently alluding the use to which Venezuela's submarines would be put.
Analysts also say Chavez wants the subs to protect shipping lanes for key oil exports.
Russian daily Kommersant said last week that Chavez wanted to buy as many as nine submarines and that during his visit could clinch the deal,
In addition to Russia, Chavez' foreign visit will also take in Belorussia and Iran, officials said after the National Assembly approved the trip.
Chavez tour of Russia, Belorussia and Iran will take place from June 26 to July 3.
Mercosur was formed in 1991 by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay with the aim of eventually creating a South American common market. Chile and Bolivia became associate members in 1996. Venezuela joined in July.