- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

PORTO CARRAS, Greece — European Union leaders welcomed the draft of the organization’s first-ever constitution yesterday, but some countries objected to restrictions on national vetoes and to the omission of any reference to God and Christianity in the text.

Outside the grounds of this heavily guarded seaside resort, riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who broke away from about 10,000 peaceful anti-globalization marchers and pelted police with firebombs, rocks and bottles. Police chased protesters back toward the nearby coastal village of Neos Marmaras as some demonstrators set fires along the way.

Despite public shows of unity over the need for a new constitution, some EU governments appeared ready to fight hard to prevent any changes in EU regulations that might infringe on national sovereignty.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed not to cede Britain’s “sovereign rights” in the final constitutional negotiations. “Of particular importance to us is the recognition — expressly — that what we want is a Europe of nations, not a federal superstate,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country is at the forefront of those pushing for closer unity, said the draft “balanced the interests of both large and small member states.”

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the summit host, called the draft a “compromise upon which work can be done.”

The leaders of the 15 EU members and 10 other countries set to join the bloc next year planned to discuss last night how to improve relations with the United States, which were severely strained by the U.S.-British war in Iraq.

Leaders were expected to endorse a strategy paper drafted by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana pleading for closer cooperation between Europe and the United States to deal with various global security threats. They also will discuss the situation in the Middle East and in Iran.

“The European Union should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security,” according to the paper. It called on the European Union to develop “more active policies” to deal with problems such as poverty, terrorism, AIDS and weapons of mass destruction.

Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, chairman of the constitutional convention, presented the leaders with the draft constitution and expressed concern that governments will tinker with the text, undoing a carefully crafted compromise.

Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and others reject the draft’s preamble for not mentioning God as the ultimate power or Christianity as the dominant factor in European culture for more than 1,000 years.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing ignored repeated appeals by conservative members of the drafting panel and Pope John Paul II himself to include God and Christianity in the charter.

The draft calls for an EU president, a foreign minister and a more effective European Commission, the EU’s executive. It also aims to streamline and accelerate decision-making in the European Union after it takes on 10 new members, most from the former Soviet bloc, next May.

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