Soros offers to pay Europe's new way

Billionaire currency speculator and philanthropist George Soros is preparing to put a considerable part of his fortune into promoting a "Congress of Europe" to bring about political reform in the European Union.

He is hoping it can be put into practice as early as May next year, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

In a speech to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Soros said he believed political reform was the key to the survival of the EU, which at present was in danger of being "sacrificed on the altar of monetary union". "Too much emphasis is being put on the steamroller of monetary union and not enough on the political divisions it will create."

The congress would focus on constitutional reform, making the European Commission answerable not to the Council of Ministers, as now, but to the European Parliament. Legislation which impinged on national sovereignty would require two-thirds support in both houses. With political reform of this kind, the financier claimed, he could envisage a much more stable EU - one, moreover, that was able to command not only a common currency, but common fiscal and foreign policies as well.

In another speech that will give new ammunition to British eurosceptics,Jacques Santer, the EC president, insisted that the process of monetary union was now "irreversible". It would make Europe into a global power with a common security and foreign policy, "an expanding entity to the east and south and the biggest contributor of aid to developing countries in the world".

But many of his claims were dismissed by Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. Speaking on the same platform and receiving loud applause when he referred to Mr Santer in derogatory terms as "Mr Europe", he said: "Mr Santer keeps talking about Europe as a global power. I am not sure that is what the citizens of Europe want. I want to be strong but I don't want to be a power."

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