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Blair calls for greater EU powers
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
(Filed: 01/03/2003)

Tony Blair proposed a huge increase in the powers of the European Union's key institutions yesterday in an effort to soothe allies and regain the initiative in the Convention on the Future of Europe.

In a joint paper with the Spanish prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, Mr Blair called for a full-time EU "super-president", appointed for a four-year term, giving the union an executive leader able to hold his own on the world stage.

To allay suspicions that the plan is a disguised attempt by two of Europe's most nationalist states to emasculate the EU's "federalist" institutions, Mr Blair and Mr Aznar have also proposed beefing up the European Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice.

The commission would gain the power to initiate EU rules and laws for the first time in justice and home affairs, covering areas such as immigration and cross-border crime and bringing the European Parliament a step closer to becoming a fully fledged law-making body in all the main policy areas.

The Anglo-Spanish plan is an effort to catch up with the French and Germans, who have made the running in recent weeks with a series of initiatives for the new European constitution, including proposals for judicial, defence, foreign policy union and a twin-headed EU presidency.

The three-page text, written by Mr Aznar's adviser on European affairs, gives the impression that Britain and Spain share a similar outlook, ignoring big differences over issues such as foreign policy.

Spain has endorsed few of Britain's copious amendments this week to the first 16 articles on the constitution, which establish "the primacy of union law" and prohibit EU member states from legislating in most areas of domestic policy unless Brussels gives the go-ahead.

The muscular new super-president, described as chair of the European Council, would answer to elected prime ministers, who derive their legitimacy from the national parliaments, stressing the "inter-governmental" character of a union of sovereign nations.

But it would nevertheless mark a major step forward in EU integration. The new apparatus would, according to the proposals, include a "real minister of foreign affairs of the union" in charge of the Euro-army and the EU's diplomatic machinery.

EU diplomats said the British willingness to give ground reflected Labour's tactic of negotiating as an EU insider, rather than threatening vetoes. But the Conservatives derided the document as a belated change of tack by the Government after finding itself dangerously isolated in the convention.

David Heathcoat-Amory, a Tory MP in the 105-strong forum, said: "Blair knows he is in very big trouble. But he is a master at putting the best complexion on a bad case and it looks as if he is now going to declare victory by saying these plans were British ideas in the first place.

"The commission will have massive new powers to control economic policy and that Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding, with dire consequences for our legal system."

28 February 2003: 1,000 changes sought in EU constitution
7 February 2003: Brussels elite accused over 'federalist coup'
22 January 2003: France and Germany unveil plans for dual citizenship
16 January 2003: Germany and France want two EU presidents
3 January 2003: British outburst on 'EU Kaiser' upsets Germans

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