- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

BRUSSELS The European Union yesterday began its first effort to draft a constitution that would give a clear profile to an organization that is often incomprehensible to the average citizen.

Meeting for the first time at the headquarters of the 15-nation European Union, 105 delegates began work on a document to revamp European institutions, a tough job that pits supporters of a powerful EU administration against national governments that stand to lose power as a result.

The convention's president, former French President Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, promised participants a tough slog as they try to reform 50 years' worth of European institutions.

"Our task will be a difficult one, as it will have to combine the dynamism of movement bringing together countries and peoples with great rigor of thought and method," he said during his opening speech to a full session of the European Parliament.

For the first time, Europeans have pulled together a body that is not composed of national governments, but rather a broad swath of politicians from Brussels, national capitals and even nonvoting members from future EU members, such as Poland and Hungary. This novel mix, more than any other factor, excites its members.

"It's not being done by bureaucrats but by people with a European vision," said Olivier Duhamel, a French delegate to the convention.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the group will try to come up with a document that would reorganize the European Union. If delegates can get a consensus, national governments will presumably come under strong pressure to accept it.

A key goal will be to simplify the complex EU institutions. Currently, the European Commission steers the day-to-day work of making common policies stick on trade, antitrust policy and agriculture. But it shares decision-making power with the European Council, which represents national governments.

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