Brussels says the unsayable: even the EU has failings

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The Independent Online

An unprecedented admission of the failings of the European Union is to be drawn up by its leaders, in response to growing Euroscepticism and a spate of violent protests of the type seen at the weekend summit in Gothenburg.

Jolted by Ireland's referendum rejection of the Treaty of Nice and by the scale of the demonstrations at recent summits, the incoming Belgian presidency of the EU plans a frank critique of the way Brussels operates. And in an effort to calm fears in some of the more Eurosceptic member states, it will also insist that in the next round of constitutional changes in 2004, some powers should be devolved back to member states.

After the violence in Gothenburg, in which three people were shot and the city centre was wrecked, the Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson, announced plans for new links with European colleagues to pool intelligence on violent demonstrators in the way that police already track football hooligans.

Gothenburg's police were woefully unprepared. However, the scope for such mayhem should be reduced because EU leaders agreed last December to move all summits to Brussels when the EU enlarges, some of them from next year.

But the alarm over the gap between the EU and Europe's 375 million people goes further than a concern over summit security.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian premier, whose country takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in two weeks' time, sees an effort to address public concerns as vital to the success of future referendums ­ in Ireland on the Nice Treaty, and potentially in Britain on entry into the euro.

The Belgians plan to produce a wide-ranging declaration at the Laeken summit in December, beginning with the first blunt analysis of its type of the failings of the EU.

No previous EU document has ever dwelt on Europe's failings and the Laeken declaration is expected to focus on a lack of efficiency and transparency, the lack of democratic accountability and the EU's current crisis of identity.

Mr Verhofstadt will lay down several other objectives for 2004. Europe will have to address the question of whether it wants to produce a new constitution, and how it intends to divide up which powers and authorities the EU should have, and which should stay with member states.

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