SPAIN was rebuked this week by Nicolas Sarkozy, the front-runner in the impending French presidential election. Referring to the meeting held in Madrid earlier this month of the 18 countries that have already ratified the European constitution, Mr Sarkozy said, “I must express my sadness that for the first time since 1945 European countries met to discuss the future of Europe without France.” Mr Sarkozy probably had his eye on the French electorate but even so his protest seemed over the top. The Madrid meeting did no more than reaffirm its participants' support for the constitution as it stands and remind the others that they represent two-thirds of the membership of EU.

Meanwhile, things are not going too well for Angela Merkel as she tries to ensure that Germany, as the current president of the EU, will present a clear statement on the constitution's future at the EU's June summit. There are differences of opinion on whether the constitution, which the French and Dutch rejected in referendums in 2005, should be rewritten, fine-tuned, slimmed down or left untouched. But Ms Merkel's greater problem is uncertainty over the outcome of the French presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June; Mr Sarkozy wants a slimmed-down edition, his opponent Segolene Royal favours a complete re-write. Britain, too, presents a problem with Tony Blair making his farewell at the June summit, and Romano Prodi's resignation in Italy will not help either.


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