Finland against creating EU "president"

By Paul de Bendern
HELSINKI, June 3 (Reuters)

The European Union's current leadership system with members taking turns at the helm for six-month spells should not be replaced by a "president" elected for several years, Finland's Foreign Minister said on Monday.

Several big EU countries are pushing to replace the rotating
presidency with the election of a senior statesman as president
of the EU's council of member states for up to five years when
the 15-nation bloc expands to take in up to 10 new members.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose country now
holds the presidency, is expected to use a June 21-22 EU summit
in Seville to give momentum to the idea.

But several smaller states oppose the idea, fearing it would
move the union towards an inter-governmental Europe in which the
big powers would dominate and the European Commission would be
weakened and less able to defend their interests.

"This is not on the agenda at Seville," Foreign Minister
Erkki Tuomioja told Reuters in an interview.

He forecast the proposal would have disappeared by the time
EU members begin negotiations on treaty reform at the next
inter-governmental conference in 2004.

"By that time, the more extreme ideas will be dropped such
as having a permanent presidency reserved for the big countries
or something similar," Tuomioja said, but added there was a case
for making the rotating presidency more efficient.

He also backed the view that enlargement to central and
eastern Europe meant the current way of taking decisions and
running the EU would have to be reformed as soon as possible.

"Enlargement will change the nature and character of the
union because up until now you can make do with stretching
institutions and the way they work from the original six to 15
without making any profound changes," Tuomioja said.

Tuomioja said expanding qualified voting majority (QMV)
would be one way to deal with more complex decision-making.

QMV gives states differing numbers of votes according to
their size, but the small states have proportionately more per
capita than the big ones.

Ministerial councils mainly work by this system, except on
foreign policy, defence, justice and home affairs. EU leaders
take summit decisions by consensus.

Thirteen countries, most of them from Central and Eastern
Europe, are knocking on the EU's door seeking to join the club.

The EU has committed itself to be ready by the end of this
year to admit some of the applications, the first of which
analysts expect to join in 2004.

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