Brussels in clash with Britain over new powers

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The Independent Online

The European Commission is setting itself on a collision course with the British Government by calling for sweeping new powers in the highly sensitive areas of foreign policy and home affairs.

The move, outlined in a paper to be agreed tomorrow, to end member states' power of veto will be fiercely opposed by Britain and others such as France. It crystallises a clear divide between the Commission in Brussels, which wants to boost its own power, and the big member states of the EU who want to strengthen the grip of national governments.

The Commission document marks the opening shot in a battle to influence an inquiry into the future of Europe, which is being chaired by the former French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and which is due to recommend substantial changes in the way the EU operates.

Mr Giscard has argued that decision-making needs to be simplified, and called for stronger EU co-operation on foreign policy and on combating cross-border crime.

The Commission's document suggests a more streamlined system in these areas. However, it would also bring to an end the present structure, which keeps two policy areas – common, foreign and security policy and criminal justice and home affairs – largely the domain of the member states by ensuring that decisions are taken by unanimous agreement. Under the plan the Commission would have the right to to push agreements through under majority voting.

The EU's military powers are likely to resist giving up their veto on foreign policy and defence decisions, particularly since the EU is trying to increase its military capabilities.

Other proposals state the Commission should have much greater powers over economic policy co-ordination – a move that British ministers believe will make it harder to persuade the public to join the single currency in a referendum.