Germany and France clash with UK over citizens' rights

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Britain clashed openly with Germany and France yesterday over the rights of citizens enshrined in the EU's draft constitution, fuelling fears that EU leaders will fail to agree the constitutional document, for the second time, at their summit next month.

Britain clashed openly with Germany and France yesterday over the rights of citizens enshrined in the EU's draft constitution, fuelling fears that EU leaders will fail to agree the constitutional document, for the second time, at their summit next month.

In a sharp exchange, the French and German foreign ministers served notice that they were in no mood to make further concessions to the UK to help Tony Blair win the referendum he has promised on an EU constitution.

The row raised questions about the ability of the UK to make its much-vaunted alliance with Berlin and Paris work, and coincided with a spate of predictions that an agreement on the constitution may not be clinched at the summit in Brussels on 17-18 June.

Yesterday's clash was prompted by demands from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, for tighter safeguards to ensure that the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is included in the draft constitution, does not create new legal rights in Britain. Although there are references limiting the legal scope in the charter's preamble, Mr Straw asked for a specific article in the treaty making the issue clearer, "to satisfy ourselves that there is the greatest legal certainly there can be".

Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, said Britain had won significant concessions on the charter at last year's convention which drew up the draft constitution, and should not use "salami tactics" to come back for more now.

His stand, which was backed by Michel Barnier, the new French Foreign Minister, was interpreted as a sign that Britain's partners do not wish to make any more allowances for the UK because of its looming referendum.

Concern was also expressed over the limited progress on the constitution. Ministers fear that political instability in Poland - one of two countries which helped block the draft constitution in December - may complicate the task of getting a deal.

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