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EU puts charter on back burner, pledges action

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, May 9 (Reuters) European Union leaders signalled today they would make no early effort to rescue the EU's stalled constitution, insisting the bloc's priority was to win credibility with policies to improve its citizens' lives.

The European Commission will propose on Wednesday that no initiative be taken until next year to revive the charter, in limbo since its rejection last year by French and Dutch voters.

The EU's executive will instead call on the bloc to make the most of existing treaties to improve security, economic growth and jobs, according to a draft paper obtained by Reuters.

''For our citizens, the priority is solving real problems,'' EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a special European Parliament session marking the May 9 declaration in 1950 hailed as the first step in launching what is now the EU.

EU leaders will wrestle at a summit in June about what to do with a charter meant to streamline the bloc's institutions to cope with 2004's enlargement to 25 members. Some leaders made it clear on Tuesday they saw no easy exit out of the stalemate.

''We have to make it through the elections in France and Netherlands and after that the negotiations on a constitution can gather momentum,'' Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said in Berlin of polls due in May 2007.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted the EU still needed a constitution but said Berlin would use its EU presidency the first half of 2007, following Finland's six-month tenure, to push for a common EU energy policy and cut Brussels' red tape.

''Europe is not good enough, there is no question. Some things progress at a snail's pace,'' Merkel told an event in Berlin. The German leader is due to set out her thoughts on the future of Europe in a keynote speech on Thursday.

ENLARGEMENT PLEDGES The Commission will on Wednesday propose simply that member states adopt in 2007 a political declaration to seek accord on institutional reform at some unspecified point in the future.

Its draft paper reaffirmed the line on enlargement of the bloc, equally cast into doubt by the constitution's woes, saying existing commitments should be honoured but urged debate on whether the Union could absorb future hopefuls.

Romania and Bulgaria have been promised membership in 2007 or 2008. Turkey and Croatia began accession talks last year and a host of other Balkan countries want to join one day.

Estonia today became the 15th country to ratify the charter despite the likelihood it will never take effect in its current form.

The constitution provides for a long-term EU president, more democratic voting rules and more say for national parliaments, but requires unanimity to come into force.

The enlarged EU's achingly slow progress on such sensitive fields as immigration, building defence capabilities and a common foreign policy has highlighted the need for institutional reform and a simpler decision-making system.

But before it can submit any reform treaty to voters and national parliaments, the Union must win back their confidence. A Europe-wide poll published last week showed only 39 percent of citizens think the EU is going in the right direction.

Barroso proposed on Monday using existing treaty provisions to remove national vetoes on criminal justice and police cooperation, rejecting accusations that he was trying to push through parts of a constitution already rejected by voters.

In a further attempt to press on with EU integration despite the constitution setback, an EU-commissioned report on Tuesday urged the bloc to create a special force of crisis managers to deal with disasters such as the Asian tsunami of 2004.

Reuters CH DB2142

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