Rebellion hits Italy's hopes for deal on EU constitution

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The Independent Online

Italy's hopes of clinching a deal on an EU constitution before the end of the year suffered a severe setback yesterday after a rebellion by countries unhappy with the draft.

Just five days before the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, opens formal negotiations on the new constitutional treaty in Rome, Spain and Poland led opposition to Italian plans which would have made it hard for countries to re-open a draft text.

Several small countries backed the revolt and Italy was forced to back down, throwing off course its plan for negotiating a deal before the Italian EU presidency ends in December.

The confrontation among EU foreign ministers was a blunt warning of the problems awaiting the Italians as they try to finalise a constitution acceptable to 15 member states plus the 10 that will join the EU next year. A draft EU constitution has been thrashed out by a convention of 105 European politicians chaired by the former French president Valèry Giscard d'Estaing. But EU leaders, and heads of government of the 10 acceding nations, need to agree unanimously.

Denis MacShane, the UK's Europe minister, said: "There is a desire to finish it. If it goes on and on and on, that will turn off the voters. I don't think the voters want Europe to be tied up in months of institutional navel-gazing."Spain's Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, said trying to "impose" M. Giscard's text would not create "a good and friendly atmosphere".