States should lose power to Brussels, says EU report

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Proposals to boost the powers of the European Commission president and the European parliament at the expense of member states will today highlight the differences between Brussels and the EU's big member countries.

Proposals to boost the powers of the European Commission president and the European parliament at the expense of member states will today highlight the differences between Brussels and the EU's big member countries.

A report ordered by the commission president, Romano Prodi, and published today will outline an ambitious agenda for European integration and institutional change to prepare for enlargement to the east.

Under the plans Mr Prodi would, for the first time, be given wide-ranging powers to sack or reshuffle a reduced team of commissioners. He would also gain more control over the way they work, and stands to secure a bigger role in drafting future treaty changes.

Meanwhile, qualified majority voting, which prevents states from blocking measures unilaterally, would be extended, possibly to include highly sensitive areas such as taxation. MEPs would also be given more legislative powers.

But soundings taken by Mr Prodi at this weekend's summit in Tampere produced a muted response. A diplomat from one large member state said flatly: "There is no appetite for another big inter-governmental conference. This paper is a contribution from a committee set up by someone who cannot make decisions on treaty changes - that is the preserve of member states."

Mr Prodi has stressed the independence of the inquiry team, made up of the former Belgian premier Jean-Luc Deheane, the former British minister Lord Simon and the ex-German president Richard von Weizsächer. However, Mr Prodi is also on record as arguing that the EU cannot "afford to settle for a minimal reform that fails to equip us for powerful efficient decision-making". He believes change cannot be avoided indefinitely, only delayed.

Mr Prodi's decision to institute the inquiry was the opening shot in the battle to shape the next round of changes. Today's recommendations are likely to win support from applicant countries and members of the European parliament, but the reaction of member states will highlight a clear divergence of views over one of the most significant issues confronting the EU - how to deal with increasing its membership from 15 countries to as many as 28.

Most big countries, aware that the timescale for enlargement is elastic, prefer a minimalist agenda that could accommodate the first entrants. This would mean re-weighting votes in the Council of Ministers, reducing the number of commissioners and limited increases in majority voting. Britain, Germany and Spain are in this camp with France, which wants a manageable agenda to complete negotiations on the next treaty in its presidency next year.

Those who want a wider agenda with a deal on much more widespread majority voting include the small countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland and the Netherlands.

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