By Humphrey Carter
THIS is your chance to have a direct say on the future of Britain in Europe and Europe as a whole.
Yesterday the Foreign and Commonwealth Office posted a special website www. europe.gov.uk in order to encourage Britons living in the UK and overseas, primarily in Europe, to either express their views or ask questions on key issues such as the Euro, equal rights in Europe and the future development of the European Union. Their website was officially posted yesterday and will remain in operation until October 4, which is when Italy takes over the presidency of the European Union and will open the debate on the new European Constitution. The website has been set up to enable the Foreign Office and the team working on drawing up Britain's European Constitution policy to learn how Britons feel about the European Union. Users will log on and discuss European issues with MPs, Government Ministers and officials leading the negotiations on the future of Europe.
As well as the discussion groups on issues like Defence and Security, the Charter of Rights and Justice and Home Affairs, users can access guides to the issues and other background material. Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, who launched the initiative said yesterday “we've taken huge strides in the UK in the last year to get people involved in the debate on Europe. This latest innovation is the most exciting. We've worked with Graham Allen MP and the Hansard Society to set up an independently monitored website which will allow every one of us as citizens to put our point of view direct to Ministers and the officials who will be carrying out the negotiation.” “In a few weeks we start negotiations in Brussels to agree a treaty that will create a constitution for the European Union. We've been negotiating treaties for centuries, always behind closed doors but this is the first time we've taken that process out of smoke–filled rooms and let everyone have their say.” Tom Hoskin, spokesperson at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that on the website, users will find all the various issues, defence, health, transport, single currency, etc. and Britons will be able to either express their views or answer questions. The idea is for the website to develop into an on-line discussion forum and questions will be answered by a variety of people including the experts working on Britain's draft of the European Constitution, Denis McShane and the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Obviously, questions will not be answered personally, but posted on the website. “The British government wants input from British citizens about the European Union and wants to know what the prime concerns are for those living outside the UK,” Tom Hoskin told the Bulletin yesterday. Hoskin was keen to point out that this is not only about Britain's future in Europe, but the future of the European Union as a whole.

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