Challenge to Britain as foreign ministers attempt to revive EU constitution

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The Independent Online

Supporters of the European constitution have laid down a clear challenge to sceptical governments in Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic with a strong call for the revival of the text which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Ahead of a meeting next Friday of the 18 EU countries that have already ratified the constitution, Spain's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has described the document as "without a doubt the best tool in our bag". He added: "If it did not already exist we would have to invent it."

His comments underline the desire of key EU countries to move ahead with the push to streamline EU decision-making during the next six months, and to stick closely to the existing text.

Germany, which took over the EU presidency this month, intends to make the future of the constitution the centrepiece of its EU summit in June.

By then the Germans want to create a timetable on how to proceed with the draft text and detailed proposals on the content of what will replace it. That is likely to pose a problem for Gordon Brown, who will almost certainly take over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister this summer.

With Mr Blair's departure date unknown, it remains possible that he will conduct negotiations at his final EU summit - leaving Mr Brown to implement whatever deal is struck.

In a joint article in The Independent, Mr Moratinos and his Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn, praise the most significant elements of the document, including the creation of an EU foreign minister.

The treaty has been put on ice following the referendum "no" votes in France and the Netherlands. To come into effect all EU states have to ratify the text. Several Eurosceptic countries, including the UK, have refused to proceed with the ratification, arguing that the treaty will never come into force. However Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading centre-right candidate in the French presidential elections, has come out in favour of a "mini-treaty" taking key institutional changes from the constitution.