Prodi Touts Federal EU Constitution

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Commission President Romano Prodi proposed a federalist constitution Thursday for the European Union, seeking new powers for the executive and rejecting an appointed "president of Europe."

The plan echoed ideas supported by Germany and most small EU states but ran counter to efforts by France, Britain and Spain to entrench the primacy of nation states, setting the stage for a clash on Europe's future direction.

In proposals drafting a constitution for an enlarged EU, Prodi called for future commission presidents to be elected by the European Parliament, giving them a democratic legitimacy independent of member governments.

"The status quo is not an option, even more so in view of enlargement," Prodi said.

"We must build the first true supranational democracy in the world," he told the European Parliament.

Prodi proposed a single EU foreign minister, to be styled "secretary of the Union," who would sit in the commission but be answerable both to member states and the commission president.

At present the role is split between a foreign policy high representative, Javier Solana, responsible only to member states with a puny budget, and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, an executive member who holds most of the purse-strings.

"National leaders should act on their commitment to make Europe a superpower. Speaking with one voice is essential to defend Europe's social model in a globalized world and protect our values," Prodi said.

The commission called for an extension of majority voting to almost all areas of EU policy except defense, removing national vetoes on issues such as taxation, and proposed greater legislative and budgetary powers for the European Parliament.

"The darkest moments of the recent history of the Union are all linked to this rule -- unanimity," Prodi said.

He slammed calls by France, Britain, Spain and Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to appoint a president of the European Council of EU leaders, to give Europe a voice and face, and an interlocutor for the president of the United States.

Such a post would create more problems than it would resolve, Prodi argued, asking sarcastically: "What would he do in the 360 days of the year when the European Council is not meeting and George W. Bush is not calling?"

Instead, the commission said the EU's six-month rotating presidency, seen as a source of inefficiency, should be maintained with minor modifications.

Prodi suggested the commission should in future be answerable both to member states in the EU Council and to the people through the parliament.

The proposals contained few surprises but they represented a determined effort to seize back the initiative from supporters of a looser inter-governmental cooperation in Europe.

The EU executive sought to extend its right of initiative to justice and home affairs and gain new powers to force member states to adopt responsible budget policies.

In both cases, its proposals mean member states could only go against the commission's view if they voted unanimously to overrule it, a rare occurrence.

Prodi suggested simplified rules for voting in the Council of ministers. Most decisions, including taxation, which is currently subject to unanimity, would require a majority of states representing a majority of the EU's population.