UK backing for Europe constitution rises to 52%, with 9% against, says survey

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Support for a European Union constitution has risen in the UK and a majority of Britons now support the idea, a survey published yesterday shows.

Fifty-two per cent of people say they back an EU constitution, up three points from the previous poll, with 9 per cent against the idea and 39 per cent of people saying they don't know.

The survey also shows that Britons are less concerned about keeping national vetoes than almost any other EU nation. Four out of 10 say they must be retained to preserve essential national interests - with only the Spanish registering a lower figure.

One in five Britons believes the veto should be "limited to a very few essential areas", while 12 per cent say they should be given up "for all decisions in order to make the EU more efficient".

The Eurobarometer findings were based on interviews with more than 16,000 people across Europe between 18 March and 30 April, during the Iraq war. It was taken as Eurosceptics started to demand a referendum on the proposed EU constitution but shortly before British newspapers launched their campaigns for a plebiscite.

Yesterday the Daily Mail announced that 89.8 per cent of the 1.69 million people who voted in the survey it organised wanted a referendum on the EU blueprint while 4.2 per cent did not.

The Eurobarometer survey, funded by the European Commission but carried out by polling companies, will encourage Tony Blair as he prepares for an EU summit in Greece starting tomorrow which will discuss the new constitution.

Yesterday Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, insisted the proposal would not amount to a United States of Europe. In a speech in London, he said: "The draft treaty had attracted more than the usual amount of hysteria that the UK is locking itself into a federal Europe. We aren't. The treaty confirms the EU as a nation of nations, not a superstate." He said the proposals by a convention chaired by the former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing confirmed that the balance of power in the EU was anchored in nation states.

Mr Straw said: "A lack of awareness has ... created a knowledge vacuum that has been filled by the forces of Euroscepticism."

The Eurobarometer survey also shows concern about the US. Fifty-eight per cent of Europeans had a negative image of the US when asked about world peace, and more than half were negative about the American role in the fight against world poverty and protecting the environment. Opinion in the UK was more positive than in almost all other member states.

* The British Government's plan to process asylum-seekers outside the EU would create "super-Sangattes", the Refugee Council warns in a report today. It condemns the idea, to be discussed at the summit, as "unprincipled, unworkable and expensive".

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