- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jan. 20 (UPI) — Ambitious Franco-German proposals aimed at creating a powerful EU president on Monday received short shrift from the European Convention, a Brussels-based body set up to design a new EU institutional architecture.

Representatives of smaller EU member states, national parliaments, the European Commission and the European Parliament lined up to criticize the plans, which were sketched out by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac last week.

The two leaders are due to officially present their designs for the future construction of the European Union Wednesday at a lavish ceremony celebrating 40 years of Franco-German cooperation.

The Dutch government's delegate to the yearlong convention, Gijs De Vries, said: "Far from making the European Union more democratic and effective, a full time president of the EU risks having the opposite effect. The result would be confusion, acrimony and stalemate."

Belgian, Greek, Irish and Finnish ministers also slammed the dual presidency proposal, which is regarded as the central plank of the Franco-German strategy for an enlarged European Union of 25 states.

Greek government spokesman Georges Katiforis said having two EU presidents — one representing the commission, the other governments, would create "uncertainty, confusion and rivalry of a sibling kind which would not bring any benefits."

Politicians from the 10 Central and Eastern European countries waiting to join the European Union were also skeptical about the Paris-Berlin manifesto.

Quoting a national proverb, Hungarian representative Peter Balazs said: "In one inn there is only room for one flautist. If two people try to play the pipe at the same time, you will end up with a cacophony."

Britain was one of the few countries to throw its weight behind the Franco-German plans, with government representative Peter Hain declaring: "An EU Council with constantly changing chairman cannot be effective."

The foreign ministers of Spain and Italy are expected to back the idea of a dual presidency and a single EU foreign minister.

At present, the presidency of the European Union changes hands every six months, resulting in shifting priorities and ever-changing chairmen. Responsibility for the EU's foreign policy also remains divided between the commission, the rotating EU presidency and "high representative" Javier Solana.

A powerful EU president, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair or Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar, would increase the EU's presence on the world stage, argue supporters of the Franco-German plan.

While supporting moves to merge the EU's various foreign policy chiefs, most parliamentarians and smaller country delegates to the convention said creating a European Union president would undermine the role of the commission and make the European Union more unintelligible to its 375 million citizens.

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