Blair think-tank calls for EU referendum revolution

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The Independent Online
BLAIRITE PRO-EUROPEANS will tomorrow launch a radical agenda for European reform, including the right for the continent's citizens to trigger EU-wide referendums on key issues like the use of genetically modified foods.

The document, produced by the government's favourite foreign policy think- tank, will also call for a drastic re-structuring of the European Commission and a new network of European deputy prime ministers.

The report, to be published tomorrow, is being seen as part of a pro- European fight-back, and comes from the Foreign Policy Centre, whose patron is Tony Blair. Peter Mandelson, perhaps Mr Blair's most influential political ally on Europe, will launch the document at a seminar on Friday, and its suggestions are already being taken seriously in Whitehall.

The report is being seen as an attempt to lay down a New Labour marker for a new round of institutional change on which the Europe is about embark ahead of its enlargement to the east.

Reform of Europe's structures has already become a hot issue of debate and the incoming European Commission president, Romano Prodi, has set up a three-member task force, including the former minister Lord Simon, to try to produce wider and more radical proposals than those on the table.

Following the low turnout in June's European elections, politicians across the EU have also been focusing on ways of re-engaging the interest of voters.

"Network Europe: the new Case for Europe", written by Mark Leonard, director of the Foreign Policy Centre, spells out an agenda designed to make Europe more democratic and accountable - but not through the European Parliament.

The document's answer is to strengthen both direct democracy, and the Council of Ministers - the forum in which member states meet and take decisions - while reforming the European Commission, the bureaucratic engine of the EU.

Citizens would be given the right to trigger referendums if they can produce a sufficient number of signatures in a specific number of of the 15 member states. The report envisages that the power would be used, for example, on issues such as food safety and bans on genetically modified organisms.

Other suggestions include a plan for the 15 deputy prime ministers of the members to meet on a monthly basis to co-ordinate policy, and for other ministers with overlapping responsibilities (such as agriculture and environment) to co-operate.

The document also calls for drastic surgery to the European Commission, and changes to the presidency of the EU, which is at present held by each of the member states on six-month rotation. Instead it suggests that three nations should hold a joint two-year presidency, with each nation responsible for specific areas of EU activity.

The report would like to replace more than 20 European directorates, which are responsible in the Commission for policy, with just four new departments.