Cologne Summit: EU wants Blair to cede more power

Andrew Grice
Friday 04 June 1999 23:02

TONY BLAIR will face demands for Britain to cede more power to the European Union when it reviews its decision-making process next year. EU leaders, meeting in Cologne yesterday, agreed to launch another review of how the union works and complete it by the end of next year.

They approved an agenda that included "an extension of qualified majority voting" in the Council of Ministers, the EU's main decision-making body. Some EU states will press for policies such as taxation, foreign and defence issues, social security and regional development, which now must be agreed unanimously by all 15 member states, to be subject to majority voting in future.

Mr Blair's aides played down any threat to Britain's sovereignty last night, saying that the new inter-governmental conference would have only a limited agenda. They pointed out that Britain would have the power to veto any changes in the EU's voting system since they would need to be approved unanimously after the review. But the possible extension of majority voting will be seized on by the Conservative Party in the run- up to Thursday's European Parliament elections. The Conservatives have accused Mr Blair of "selling out" Britain's interests by agreeing an increase in majority voting during the last EU review in 1997.

Next year's conference will aim to streamline the way the EU works to prevent it becoming bogged down when it expands to include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus.

Yesterday the 15 EU leaders agreed that the review should aim to slim down the number of EU commissioners from 20 to 15, with one from each member state. This would mean Britain would have only one commissioner instead of two as at present. It could leave Neil Kinnock, the EU Transport Commissioner, vying for a post with Chris Patten, the former Tory party chairman, who is expected to join the Commission later this year.

The review will also consider the "weighted voting" system in the Council of Ministers, which gives EU states a number of votes based roughly on their size. Big countries complain that this gives smaller ones disproportionate weight.

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