Straw: 'reasonable' chance of EU deal

Jack Straw insisted yesterday there was a "reasonable" chance of securing agreement on a new European constitution next month but said failure would not prevent the expansion of the European Union.

Speaking before talks with his European counterparts in Italy, he said it would "not be the end of the world" if ministers fail to agree.

Tony Blair distanced himself from the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday after Mr Straw said the treaty was "not absolutely necessary". But yesterday Mr Straw stood his ground, insisting that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

Asked about the chances of success at next month's intergovernmental conference (IGC) during the second day of debate on the Queen's Speech, Mr Straw said: "Do I believe in miracles? No. What are the chances? I think the chances are reasonable but you can never predict these things until they have happened."

Mr Straw promised to maintain Britain's "red lines" or objections over the treaty, saying he would resist attempts to remove the British veto on foreign policy decisions.

But he said: "What we need to apply ourselves to is how we reform the institutions in order to make it work better. For enlargement to operate effectively there does need to be that change in the way the European Union works."

Mr Straw told the Commons that the constitution should be a "good result" for Britain. He added: "I hope that the IGC will agree a constitutional treaty which modernises the way the European Union takes decisions in preparation for a Union of 25 or more.

"And I believe that national parliaments should be given for the first time a formal role at the EU level and that the new treaty should make an explicit acknowledgement that the EU's power derives from its member states ending the hopes of those who seek the creation of a federal United States of Europe.

"If we can get agreement, as I hope and believe we should, then the new treaty should be a good result for Britain and the European Union.''

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, attacked confusion in the Government about the proposals. He said: "For months we have been told that the constitution does not involve fundamental change. Now we are told that unless it is changed the Government will veto it."

He told Mr Straw: "You must explain why, after months of negotiation, the red line on foreign policy and indeed on others appears in the latest Italian proposals to be moving in totally the opposite direction.

"We don't believe in red lines. Like the Prime Minister three years ago, we don't believe the constitution is necessary or desirable. We just want to get rid of the constitution."

Mr Ancram added: "We want a Europe for its peoples and not for its elites. We want a Europe that can genuinely work in partnership with the United States."

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