Socialists turn to EU and away from Blair

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The Independent Online

Spain's new prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ended Madrid's long-running alliance with Britain yesterday, promising to strengthen ties with Paris and Berlin, push a "pro-European" stance and agree a European Union constitution.

Spain's new prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ended Madrid's long-running alliance with Britain yesterday, promising to strengthen ties with Paris and Berlin, push a "pro-European" stance and agree a European Union constitution.

The left's surprise election victory in Spain is expected to cause an important realignment in the EU, sweeping away a government in Madrid which spent eight years cultivating ties with London and Washington.

The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party leader said he was ready to compromise over the EU constitution which was blocked by Spain and Poland in December last year.

Mr Zapatero said he hoped to restore "magnificent" relations with France and Germany, which opposed the Iraq war, and put Spain back in the vanguard of European integration. "The first objective in foreign policy is to gain an understanding with Europe again," he said.

The Spanish election result is almost certain to reduce options for Tony Blair. Since he came into office in 1997, Mr Blair has relied on the outgoing centre-right premier, José Maria Aznar, on issues ranging from European economic reform to transatlantic relations and Iraq. Yesterday's rejection of Mr Aznar at the ballot box marks the end of the premiers' alliance with Italy's centre-right leader, Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Aznar was to stand down but his successor would have been a potential ally for Mr Blair.

Mr Blair had improved relations with Paris and Berlin. But the UK hoped to fall back on more "reliable" alliances if necessary. Although the UK can look to Poland and several of the countries about to join the EU, its network of powerful allies is diminished.

EU diplomats predicted that Spain's new government is good news for the EU constitution. Mr Zapatero said he would work for a compromise on the issue. He said he would back a "double majority" voting system which gave more weight in EU decision-making to population size, in defence of the disproportionate votes Spain and Poland won in the 2000 Nice treaty.

He said: "I want Europe to see us again as pro-European. My feeling is that the election result has caused surprise but a lot of satisfaction in Europe. I think we can reach an agreement which will maintain the balance of power for an enlarged Europe."

Germany has said it will be flexible and, although an agreement is some way off, diplomats said the mood was optimistic. France's Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said: "We must seize every chance to make Europe advance. It is vital."

Next week the Irish presidency of the EU will decide whether to revive the talks.

¿ European Union ministers will meet on Friday to discuss plans to help European countries hit by terror attacks, and to appoint an official to coordinate counter-terrorism moves.

The meeting will pavethe way for a summit of EU leaders the following week, and discuss improved intelligence sharing and closer co-operation with non-EU nations.

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