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Eu should lose powers { January 15 2003 }

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EU 'should lose some of its powers to nations'
By Daniel Dombey and George Parker in Brussels
Published: January 15 2003 22:03 | Last Updated: January 15 2003 22:03

The European Union should lose some of its powers to national governments, according to a draft constitution drawn up by ValÚry Giscard d'Estaing, the chairman of the Convention on the future of Europe.

An early version of a future EU constitution, prepared by the former French president's staff and seen by the Financial Times, would forbid the EU from harmonising member countries' laws in areas ranging from industry to employment.

The Convention's steering "praesidium" will discuss the draft constitution articles at a meeting on Thursday.

Brussels briefing

Mr Giscard d'Estaing's move comes in the wake of a Franco-German initiative to create a new president of the European council, the forum of EU leaders, another step seen as bolstering intergovernmental co-operation at the expense of the European Commission.

The proposal by Gerhard Schr÷der, German chancellor, and Jacques Chirac, French president, would also lead to the election of the European Commission president by the European parliament. The suggestion, which won qualified support from other EU governments on Wednesday, would give the EU two presidents and make the head of the council the political driving force and public face of the EU.

But Mr Giscard d'Estaing's latest contribution - the first of a series of draft constitutional articles - is likely to face an angry response from many of the 105 members of the Convention, which intends to submit a completed text to national leaders in June. More far-reaching ideas to constrain the EU were rejected last year by Convention members, many of whom are suspicious of the influence of big EU member states.

"We either trust the EU or we don't," said Andrew Duff, a federalist member of the Convention. "If you speak to industry or universities or the unemployed, it is my experience that there is full support for greater EU involvement, not less."

The draft text states that "the union may not harmonise member states' laws or regulations" for such things as education, culture, industry, employment, and research and development.

This would restrict the EU's powers compared with the current EU treaty, which says "any action by the community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this treaty".

The Commission is worried about the new articles, arguing that while it often may not be seeking harmonisation in such areas, a constitutional ban would be too rigid.

The Commission also believes that separate provisions in Mr Giscard d'Estaing's draft to allow national parliaments to question the need for European legislation should be sufficient to stop the Commission from overstepping the mark. But some Convention members argue that the future constitution should give greater clarity to the limits of the EU's power than before.

"The European Union is not a state," said I˝igo Mendez de Vigo, one of the members of the praesidium. "States can do everything in their domain but the EU should only be allowed to act where there are competences that have been attributed by the constitution."

Mr Giscard D'Estaing intends to submit a series of draft articles to the Convention in the months up to April, when there should be a full constitution to work on.

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