Britain wins concessions in EU constitution veto debate

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Tony Blair won a series of concessions yesterday in his battle to keep the national veto on tax and foreign policy in the EU's proposed new constitution, improving the prospects of a deal at a summit this week.

Tony Blair won a series of concessions yesterday in his battle to keep the national veto on tax and foreign policy in the EU's proposed new constitution, improving the prospects of a deal at a summit this week.

Changes to the text, circulated by the Irish presidency yesterday, help Mr Blair in his battle to secure most of Britain's so-called "red lines", the changes the government says it needs if it is to accept the package. They could mark a turning point in the battle to overcome British reservations, although Mr Blair may still be set for hard bargaining with fellow EU heads of state at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The United Kingdom opposes plans to remove the national veto in a series of limited areas on a point of principle, arguing that they could prove to be the thin end of the wedge. Mr Blair wants to avoid majority voting on all areas of taxation, social security and foreign affairs, as well as most areas of judicial and criminal law, and on the way money is raised to fund the European institutions, including the British budget rebate.

On tax, the new paper suggests keeping the veto in all areas, although that is not made explicit in the document. Proposals remain that could allow qualified majority voting if all nations agree that new laws would help fight fraud or assist administrative co-operation, but after yesterday's concessions these would no longer apply to company taxation, although they might to VAT and excise duty.

A plan to allow majority voting on foreign policy when a new EU foreign minister makes a proposal has been neutered.

Britain had won a provision for an "emergency brake", allowing countries a de facto veto on social security and judicial co-operation. The latest changes would allow for groups of countries to institute closer integration on justice and home affairs within 12 months if there was no agreement. Britain also appeared to win a concession keeping its veto on the measures covering the budget rebate.

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