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29 Nov 03,, 05:43
EU summit to tackle key divisions

European Union ministers will address key issues facing the EU as it prepares for eastward expansion on the second day of their meeting in Naples.
Serious divisions remain over the voting system and the size of the European Commission in an enlarged union.

But there are signs of a breakthrough in another sensitive area - defence.

On Friday Britain, France and Germany presented their partners with a plan to boost military co-operation.

The Naples meeting - hosted by Italy, which currently holds the EU presidency - brings together foreign ministers from the union's 15 current and 10 future members.

It comes two weeks before a summit where EU leaders are due to agree on the final shape of a European constitution.

Growing pains

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Naples says the biggest battle will be over voting power.

Under the draft constitution the number of voting commissioners will be held at 15 - meaning 10 countries would not have fully-fledged commissioners when the union expands.

Spain has said provisions in the text which dilute the voting power Spain and Poland won at the Nice summit three years ago are "unacceptable".

The Netherlands said small countries tried without success earlier this week to win concessions from heavyweights France and Germany.

Britain, for its part, said it would reject the draft if it meant states would lose their veto over foreign policy.

The UK also objects to the title of foreign minister - arguing it suggests there is such a thing as a European super-state.

The Italians hope to reach final agreement on the text at the weekend - but analysts say this is highly optimistic.

Military plans

However Britain, France and Germany appear close to an agreement on European defence.

The three countries agreed to reinforce the EU's military capabilities, while trying to allay American fears that this might undermine Nato, officials said on Friday.

The plan is said to involve a permanent EU planning cell, based in Brussels.

EU military planners would draw on Nato assets - notably transport planes, satellite intelligence and the alliance's communications network.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said it was crucial for Europe to forge ahead with plans for a common defence.

"This is a key issue. We can't have a Europe without defence," he told French state radio France-Info.

British officials confirmed that an agreement had been reached but emphasised that it was not a "formal solution".

Last month Washington described plans for European military operations independent of Nato as the biggest threat to the future of the alliance.