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Leaders welcome EU deal
NICE, France -- European leaders are claiming success in reaching agreement on internal reforms, amid concern that they do not go far enough.
The 15 member states thrashed out an agreement during a marathon five-day summit which paves the way for an expanded union to include up to 12 new members.
The deal, to be ratified by the European Parliament over the next two months, alters the voting rights of member nations within EU institutions and lays the foundations for expanding the EU.
But key officials within the commission say the agreement does not go far enough in forcing member states to abandon some of their veto rights in favour of qualified majority voting.
European Commission President Romano Prodi said: "I cannot hide from you a certain regret that we did not manage to go further."
Jonathan Faul, the EU executive's chief spokesman, added: "We will continue and re-double our efforts to negotiate with the applicant countries treaties which we can then submit for ratification in the normal way."
Far reaching plans to streamline the European Commission were postponed for at least 10 years.
The summit had identified 30 new areas where member states would waive their veto rights in favour of qualified majority voting, but met with stiff resistance.
Britain, backed by Sweden, Luxembourg and Ireland, convinced leaders to drop plans to take some decisions on indirect taxation policy and the fight against tax fraud by majority vote.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the summit's outcome was "satisfactory" despite "difficult negotiations."
Sweden's leader Goran Persson said: "It is not pure mathematics, but also a bit of politics."
France successfully defended its veto to defend its film industry.
Negotiations will continue over social security, asylum and immigration as well as subsidies to poorer regions.
But the commission won partial success in its bid to extend qualified majority voting to international negotiations on trade in services and intellectual property -- areas that currently require unanimity.
New members' reaction
Prospective EU members welcomed the agreement, saying it signaled a commitment to enlargement.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus opened membership talks in March 1998 and are keen to join in 2003.
Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Bulgaria and Romania have also since joined the candidates' queue and Turkey also has EU membership ambitions.
Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told local radio that the summit's outcome was "exceptionally positive." The summit recognised Poland as one of the key new players.
While Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath called the deal "a significant step towards the goal of European unity."
Smaller states like Estonia and Slovenia celebrated being earmarked a commissioner each.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel added: "The division of the mandates is fair and still in favour of small countries."
French President and summit host Jacques Chirac said the agreement would go down in history for reshaping the union.
"It was important to keep our commitments to the candidate countries in central and eastern Europe," he added.
Re-weighting of votes
The talks, the longest in the EU's history, nearly came unstuck when smaller existing members, including Belgium and Portugal, complained about voting rights.
Chirac was forced to come up with three different proposals and temporarily postponed talks at one stage before coming to an agreement at 4.30am (0300 GMT) Monday morning.
The final compromise gives Germany, France, Italy and Britain 29 votes in the EU's council of ministers.
Spain gets 27; the Netherlands, 13; Greece, Belgium and Portugal 12; Sweden and Austria 10 votes; Finland, Denmark and Ireland seven; and Luxembourg four.
Germany, which had been at loggerheads with France throughout the summit over its voting rights, agreed instead to a significant proportionate increase in the number of German members in the European Parliament.
Voting rights have become more important as part of the complex voting scheme.
The qualified majority was set at 255 votes out of 345.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Deadlocked EU talks force extension of Nice summit
The European Commission
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