Row looms as Germany pushes for UK to lose crucial EU veto

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The Independent Online

A row is brewing between Britain and the European Union's other major members over plans to strip the UK of its veto on foreign policy issues.

The British Government will fight to maintain the right to refuse to sign up to any policy it disagrees with at all costs and there are suggestions that the battle could come at a good time for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is seeking to increase his flagging popularity with the right wing of his party.

The scheme, drawn up by a group of European foreign ministers, proposes replacing the current consensus system with one in which a majority of the vote would suffice to compel member nations to adopt foreign policy. If accepted in full, it would also create a pan-European foreign ministry, a European army and a single market for EU defence industries.

The planned overhaul is being put forward in a bid to make the current system, which is considered unwieldy, more efficient. The German-led push is broadly supported by 11 of 27 EU countries. It proposes having a directly elected President for the European Commission, combining the roles currently occupied by José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy. The changes would also hand a great deal of power to a foreign affairs chief.

Its authors, the Future of Europe Group, include: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. The other backers are: the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Portugal and Luxembourg.

A nine-month period of negotiations, which followed German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's call for sweeping changes, produced a 12-page document proposing creating a new European police force to protect its external borders, as well as a European visa.

It would also mean that past European treaties could be reopened and edited under the new majority voting system.

The plans for a European army were not backed by all 11 countries which produced the document.

The document read: "To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long term introduce more majority decisions in the common foreign and security policy sphere, or at least prevent one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives.

"Aim for a European defence policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (eg the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the group this could eventually involve a European army."