Enhanced co-operation.

A new duo, a new quarrel. The scarred relationship between Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi has certainly been replaced by a more courteous rapport between the Commission President and the acting President of the European Council, Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. Nevertheless, on January 6, at the traditional working meeting that marks the beginning of each Presidency, the two men were fundamentally divided: would the failure to agree a European Constitution inevitably lead to the creation of a two-speed Europe? President Prodi is convinced this is the case and like Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, is recommending the creation of an avant-garde if, by the end of the year, the twenty-five current and future Member States are still unable to agree a compromise on the future Constitutional Treaty. The Taoiseach does not share this view: "I have no problem with enhanced co-operation within the context of the Treaty, but what would a group operating outside of the Treaty represent? How can it constitute an avant-garde for others?", Mr Ahern wondered. Moreover, Dublin does not believe a hard core is gestating. "I have great doubts over France and Germany's desire to forge a closer union. I not only see no purpose in this, I am also hard pressed to see in what area they might do more than we are currently doing together", said Ireland's European Affairs Minister Dick Roche.

Put on the spot, Mr Ahern has already begun consultations designed to ensure the Presidency can report back to the Brussels European Council on March 25 and 26. After receiving Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on January 8, he will hold talks with Poland's Prime Minister Leszek Miller on January 29. His scheduled meeting in Berlin on January 9 with the German Chancellor had to be cancelled at the last minute as Gerhard Schroeder went down with the 'flu. He has also spoken on telephone with his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar without setting a date for a face-to-face meeting. Several bilateral or multilateral meetings might help the Presidency in its task, notably a meeting in Berlin on January 16 of "Weimar triangle" Foreign Ministers, Germany's Joschka Fischer, France's Dominique de Villepin and Poland's Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

Stability Pact.

Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes, buoyed by an opinion from the Commission's Legal Service, is expected on January 13 to recommend that the EU executive take action...

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