Calls to expand scope of EU constitution rejected

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The Independent Online

Battle lines were drawn over the future of the European constitution yesterday as a group of countries that have ratified the document rejected suggestions that it should be watered down, even pressing for its scope to be extended.

At yesterday's meeting in Madrid, the Spanish minister for Europe, Alberto Navarro, said that supporters of the treaty should try to boost support for the text by adding further clauses, arguing: "We can't all advance at the pace of the slowest."

His call was echoed by Luxembourg's Europe Minister, Nicolas Schmit, who said: "Europe doesn't need a minimalist solution. Europe needs a maximalist solution that allows us to resolve the problems of our times." New areas that could be added included energy, immigration and security, the ministers said.

However sceptical nations, led by the UK, have already made it clear that they do not want any text with proposed changes substantial enough to trigger a referendum. That would mean slimming the existing text drastically.

Overall, 18 nations have ratified the treaty but several of those who have not done so, including the UK and the Czech Republic, know they would have an uphill task to persuade voters to support any new document in a referendum.

Germany, which holds the presidency of the EU, has set itself the task of breaking the deadlock over the constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums in 2005. Privately it views yesterday's meeting as more likely to polarise the situation than to help bring about a consensus.

Mr Navarro called on France and Holland to explain why the treaty was rejected and what can be done to salvage it. "So far we have not heard a Plan B," he said.

In fact the French and Dutch positions are crucial since both are founder members of the EU. If their objectives can be reconciled with those of the 18 that have ratified the remaining nations will be under pressure to follow suit.