The full text of the summit conclusions, with the annexes - including the Laeken Declaration - is published as a separate document with this edition of European Report, and is also available on our website: 3D> Search / Full content 3D> Ref: EURE;2645;900The fine-tuning of the Laeken Declaration, the showpiece text of the Council and political priority for Mr Verhofstadt's Presidency took place during the morning of December 15 following a working dinner the night before. The dinner had been fairly animated because the most recent draft was considered too "federalist" by many EU leaders, even though the final version was not substantially changed apart from some formulations which were more cautious but explicit nevertheless. "Some people were talking as if we were already in the Intergovernmental Conference," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker explained. The Declaration also raises the principle of opening the way for a European constitution. "It is no exaggeration to say that this is an historic step," German Chancellor Gerhard Schr=94der said.The Declaration "marks the start of a debate on the future of Europe with no taboos," Mr Verhofstadt claimed, adding: "We have to dare to ask all the questions are being asked. I know that it's the IGC which will come up with the final answers but the method will be different." This new innovative method for institutional reform is the Convention which was used in 2000 for drafting the Charter of Fundamental Rights. "This is a great day for European democracy, a breakthrough for integration," claimed Jo Leinen (PES, Germany), joint rapporteur on the European Parliament of the subject but who will probably be replaced in the Convention by the former Parliament President Klaus H=84nsch (PES, Germany).--The Declaration sets out the challenges and questions to be addressed by the Convention with a strong emphasis on bringing Europe closer to its citizens, increasing the effectiveness of the Union and strengthening the EU's influence in a globalised world.The Declaration stresses the success of the European Union in restoring peace and prosperity to the EU after centuries of war but says that "European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens." While Europe's citizens "support the Union's broad aims they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union's everyday actions," it states. The EU should have a stronger presence in a globalised world, the Declaration says, "able to play both a stabilising role world-wide and to point the way ahead for many countries and peoples." While combating violence and terrorism it should not turn a blind eye to the world's heartrending injustices and change the course of world affairs to benefit not just the rich countries but also the poorest.The Declaration says that the EU's citizens want it to achieve certain objectives including a greater role in justice and security and results in the fields of employment and combating poverty and social exclusion while finding a common approach on environmental pollution, climate change and food safety.At the same time, there is a feeling that the Union was "behaving too bureaucratically" in other areas. Good governance should mean opening up fresh opportunities, not imposing further red tape. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair highlighted a section saying: "This document is addressing the democratic challenge and it defines that as ensuring the Europe comes closer to its citizens without poking its nose into every nook and cranny of national life."In terms of specific questions, the Convention should address the Declaration says that there is a need to clarify, simplify and adjust the division of competences between the Union and the Member States. In particular, it asks whether powers not assigned by the Treaties to the Union should fall within the exclusive competence of the Member States.On external relations, it asks how to develop a more coherent common foreign and defence policy, whether the Petersberg crisis management tasks should be updated. The Declaration asks whether the number of legal instruments should be reduced.Addressing the need to increase the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the present EU institutions, it raises the question of how to appoint the president of the European Commission. It asks whether the president should be chosen by the European parliament or directly elected. It also talks about whether the role of the European Parliament should be extended, including greater use of co-decision.On the question of a constitution, it stresses the need to simplify the existing Treaties and asks whether it might be possible to split the Treaties into two parts with the possibility of different ratification and amendment procedures. In the long run, the Declaration states, simplification and reorganisation of the treaties might lead to the adoption of a constitution for the Union. This might include the values which the Union cherishes, as well as the fundamental rights and obligations of its citizens.--The Convention will meet in Brussels from March 2002 and will be made up of a total 105 members, comprising representatives of governments and national parliaments (including the candidate countries), the European Parliament and the European Commission. Civil society organisations will be invited to contribute to the Convention's debates through a forum. Regions with legislative powers will have observer status as part of the delegation of the Committee of the Regions. The Convention's debates will be in public which would "allow Europe to be stronger, more efficient, more influential and more concrete," according to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The Convention will draw up options, or recommendations where a consensus exists, to the EU governments in the Intergovernmental Conference after an undefined period. The Convention will indicate the strength if support for each option in a bid to make its findings more binding on the subsequent IGC. Originally the Convention was supposed to finish its work in June 2003 at the latest...

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