Get on with EU integration, urges Barroso

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The Independent Online

Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, has blamed national leaders for undermining the EU and urged them to declare their commitment to the bloc's next phase of integration.

Mr Barroso outlined plans for an updated version of the Messina Declaration on European integration, which paved the way for the Treaty of Rome, which is 50 years' old next year. And he accused prime ministers of undermining the EU by failing to back pledges with action and using Brussels as a scapegoat for their own failures. "When they have a success they say it is a national success; when they have a problem it is Europe's problem," he said.

Launching a report yesterday on the future of Europe, Mr Barroso also called for the end of national vetoes on decisions over police and judicial co-operation. He argued: "Should we wait for another terrorist atrocity before we have effective joint decisions across Europe to fight terrorism?"

The document aimed to spell out how the EU could escape the paralysis inflicted by referendum "no" votes in France and the Netherlands last year on the European constitution. No real progress on revamping the treaty is expected before the French presidential elections in 2007.

Officially, a pause for "reflection" on the constitution is due to end next month. However, there is no consensus on how to proceed. The report mapped out an agenda which can be pursued under existing treaty rules and, if backed by EU leaders, will help the EU buy more time. Though the idea of further breathing space will be welcome in many EU nations, Mr Barroso's comments on national leaders may be less so.

He said: "I am challenging national leaders. I am asking them: Are you committed or not to this project of living together in Europe?"

Mr Barroso complained of the lack of progress over reforms designed to revitalise the European economy. He argued: "Sometimes it happens that we agree about the goals at summits but afterwards they [national leaders] don't give the EU institutions the means to achieve those goals."

The most concrete proposal yesterday was for the pooling of more national sovereignty on police, judicial co-operation and legal migration. National vetoes would be axed and the European Parliament would help create new laws.

The document also called for the completion of the European single market in goods and services, and suggested an entitlement card to remind EU citizens of what they can expect from the EU. The commission's approach was backed by the UK which has a special arrangement under which it cannot be forced to take part in any police or judicial co-operation it does not like.

A British official said the Barroso plan "reflects the immediate priorities" of the UK in boosting co-operation on security and economic reform, although it was less keen on a declaration.

The European Commission has been trying to reconnect with Eurosceptical voters. The latest Euro-barometer opinion poll showed strong support for co-operation on counter-terrorism and security.

Political reaction was mixed. Andrew Duff, MEP, Liberal Democrat spokes-man on EU constitutional affairs, said: "At least six countries have said they cannot or will not ratify the constitution. So the text has to be changed, and the commission should be the first institution to draw that fairly obvious conclusion."

Timothy Kirkhope, MEP, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament said: "The EU continues to delude itself that the EU Constitution and more integration is the answer to Europe's problems. The reality is that it is initiatives like the Constitution that have done so much to damage to the organisation's credibility."

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