ONE of the reforms lost by the “shelving” of the EU constitution was the proposal to extend the period of the presidency of the Council of Ministers, currently six months, to three or more years. The argument was that the volume of work to be done by each revolving presidency was beyond even the most efficient government's capacity. There remain hopes that this reform may be salvaged from the constitutional treaty by general agreement. The nature of the problem was perfectly illustrated yesterday by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's statement to the House of Commons on the government's work plan for the six months ahead. He began by saying that the UK hoped to steer through a “rational budget” for the EU by the end of the year after the failure to reach any such agreement only two weeks ago in Brussels. Some hope! On the issue of the UK's rebate he said it was “an anomaly based on another anomaly”, but did not say whether two anomalies were better than one. Next, he promised progress on resolving difficulties over the EU working time directive in a way which “preserves the freedom of the individual to to work the hours they choose and maintains the Government's ability to deliver high quality public services”. Hmm! Then there would be a major programme to reduce the volume and complexity of EU legislation. At the same time negotiations with Turkey for EU membership should begin in October, and summit meetings held with India, China, Ukraine, Russian and Canada as well as talks on the Middle East, Iran and EU support for Iraq. Also a “stronger action plan for Africa” and progress on climate change (assuming these are agreed by the G8 next week!). Clearly this is an impossible work load, especially for a country whose presidency starts with several unresolved disagreements with major EU members still left on the table.


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