'The constitution is not dead but it is in a coma'

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What was the Brussels summit supposed to decide on the EU budget? They were supposed to reach an agreement on the spending programme for 2007-13. All day they argued about the basics of what the EU spends its cash on, including £29.4bn a year on farm subsidies and Britain's £3bn rebate.



What was the Brussels summit supposed to decide on the EU budget?

They were supposed to reach an agreement on the spending programme for 2007-13. All day they argued about the basics of what the EU spends its cash on, including £29.4bn a year on farm subsidies and Britain's £3bn rebate.

Why did they struggle to reach agreement?

Messrs Blair and Chirac had a lot to do with it. For a week before the meeting they traded insults across the Channel. Also the Netherlands, Italy and Spain took hardline positions on their own money problems.

What would failure to agree a new budget mean?

It would be a setback. But the EU will not run out of money because the new funding agreement will not start until 2007. At least one other attempt to resolve the differences will be made before the mid-2006 real deadline. Britain takes over the EU presidency in July and will be in charge of negotiations for six months. But, given its position on the rebate, Tony Blair's prospects of brokering a deal look slim.

Was Tony Blair isolated?

British officials claimed he was not, pointing to the Netherlands' opposition to the deal on the table. But he certainly lacked allies over the British rebate, which all other 24 EU members agree should not continue in its present form.

Will the British rebate last forever?

Unlikely. Although the UK has a veto on any plan to get rid of it, the annual cheque will be increasingly difficult to justify. That is because it is due to rise to £4.7bn a year by 2013, and the 10 new members who joined the EU last year must contribute to it along with everyone else. Even Mr Blair accepts that this is not fair.

Is the constitution dead?

No, but it is certainly in a coma. EU leaders have agreed to a pause to allow countries facing referendums to kick them into the long grass. In the meantime a host of ideas are doing the rounds including an emergency summit or a forum to consult citizens about the direction of the EU.

What was agreed on the constitution?

To scrap the November 2006 deadline for ratifying the constitutional treaty, but not much else.

Can it be put into effect?

Only with difficulty because this would require ratification in all 25 nations which means holding another referendum in France and the Netherlands. Though not impossible - perhaps post-2007 under a new French President - this remains unlikely in the short term.Less controversial elements of the document could be revived in another treaty.

What happens next?

The task of picking up the pieces falls to Britain. As president, the UK will chair all the key meetings and set the agenda, both on financing and on the constitution. However, most major decisions are likely to be kicked forward to the next presidency - Austria - which assumes the task next January. The Austrians are less embroiled in disputes over the EU's future than Britain, so may have a better chance of resolving them. Britain will, instead, concentrate on its other priorities including enlarging the EU and opening membership talks with Turkey. This could provoke new tensions with France, which is cooling on the idea after their referendum "no" vote.

* 20 JUNE: Blair Commons statement on Brussels summit

* 23 JUNE: Blair addresses European Parliament on British EU presidency plans

* 1 JULY: UK takes over EU presidency. European Commission visits London

* 6-8 JULY: G8 summit hosted by UK

* 3 OCTOBER: Turkey due to start membership talks

* 27 OCTOBER: EU summit in Brussels (to be confirmed)

* 15-16 DECEMBER: EU summit in Brussels

* JANUARY 2006: Austria takes over EU presidency

* MARCH 2006: EU summit in Brussels could resolve budget deadlock

* JUNE 2006: Another summit marks final deadline to end budget dispute

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