WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- The publication Monday of the first draft of a European constitution suggests that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has won three crucial battles. But he remains in danger of losing the political war back in Britain, where the Conservative opposition claims "a thousand years of British sovereignty are at risk."
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who is chairman of the EU's constitutional convention, has dropped, at Blair's urging, three crucial provisions from the draft constitution that is designed to govern the future enlarged European Union of 25 nations. The draft no longer includes the loaded word "federal" in its introductory definition of the future EU, drops earlier plans to name it "the United States of Europe," and explicitly excludes earlier plans to harmonize taxes across Europe.
The draft text says the EU should have "legal personality" and must also adopt a binding Charter of Rights covering a range of issues including labor and social policies. To British alarm, it also calls for a much wider use of majority voting in EU decision-making, which shrinks the ability of individual nations to use the veto.
It also calls for a powerful EU president to be elected by the heads of government of the member states and for an EU foreign minister running a common foreign policy. Such a foreign minister would combine the roles currently held by the EU Commissioner for External Affairs (who runs the world's biggest humanitarian aid budget) and by Javier Solana, the high representative on foreign matters for the EU Council.
The new constitution represents the most fundamental change in the way the EU is run since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that laid the way for the euro single currency. The draft published Monday after 15 months of work by the constitutional convention is only a partial text, with the section on the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be published Tuesday. Other sections, including the preamble that may or may not include a specific reference to the Christian origins of the EU, are to come later.
The whole text, which will be more than 250 articles, will form the basis for discussion in the convention's plenary session on Friday and Saturday -- with the institutional part to be debated in the following session on June 4-6. The Constitutional Treaty must be ready for the EU summit June 20 in Thessaloniki. It will then be discussed in an Inter-governmental Conference before finally being adopted, probably next year. Even then, the final constitution will be subject to approval by the individual EU member states, either by referendum or votes by national parliaments.
This now threatens to be the decisive issue for Britain. Blair maintains that the constitutional implications for Britain are not important enough to justify a referendum. But the Conservative Party and much of the media are campaigning for a referendum, with strong opinion-poll support. And wealthy individuals such as Maurice Saatchi have offered to help fund a private referendum if the Blair government refuses to give way.
A private referendum would not be binding on the government, but is likely to persuade Britain's second chambers of Parliament, the House of Lords, to delay its approval long enough for the issue to dominate the next general election.
Other countries have their own objections to the draft. The EU's smaller nations object that the Giscard d'Estaing text favors the big countries like Britain, France and Germany. Spain has objected to the proposed Giscard reforms of the division of power in EU decision-making between the EU Council (where the national governments meet), the EU Commission (the EU's executive body which also has the sole right to initiate EU legislation) and the European parliament.
But the British objections have been crucial, in part because of Blair's leading role in EU defense plans and his staunch support of the United States over Iraq. Giscard visited Blair last week, before putting the final touches to his draft constitution, and complaints about Blair's influence from other European capitals led Giscard's spokesman to deny that Giscard spends "a disproportionate amount of his time and energy" dealing with the United Kingdom.
Giscard himself went on British TV at the weekend to challenge allegations that his draft threatened British sovereignty.
"The idea of offending or destroying Britain is nonsense," he said. "I did set out at the beginning of the convention (the Convention on the Future of Europe) that I would not ignore at all the British point of view."
Britain also claimed to have won a key provision that would give national governments would have a veto over foreign and defense policy, said Peter Hain, the secretary for Wales, who has been Britain's chief representative on Giscard's 105-member convention team, which includes government ministers, members of the European and national parliaments and of the EU Commission.
"We are burying once and for all the fantasies of a Brussels super-state," Hain said. "Europe will remain a union of sovereign nation states with governments such as Britain's in charge."
But the text of the draft constitution gives the new EU wide powers over economic and foreign policy.
On economics issues it says: "The Union shall coordinate the economic policies of the member states, in particular by establishing broad guidelines for these policies."
On foreign affairs, it says: "The Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security, including the progressive framing of a common defense policy, which might lead to a common defense. Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness."
On general principles of the EU constitution it says: "The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the member states in a society of pluralism, tolerance, justice, equality, solidarity and non-discrimination."
On the vexed issue of division of powers between the EU and the individual member states, it says: "The Union shall respect the national identities of its member states, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, including for regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential state functions, including for ensuring the territorial integrity of the state, and for maintaining law and order and safeguarding internal security. "