Prime Ministers of the so-called "Visegrad Four" - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - met at a chateau outside Prague on Wednesday, ahead of a crucial meeting in Rome on the draft EU constitution. The V4 and other small countries aren't too happy with the draft, and the Dobris meeting was a chance to fine-tune their strategy ahead of the Rome meeting.
When the EU's 25 current and future members gather in Rome for the inter-governmental conference (IGC) on Saturday, the V4 will be among those countries seeking to renegotiate several key parts of the constitution. Top of the agenda is the "one country, one commissioner" principle, a priority shared by all smaller countries. Benita Ferrero-Waldner is Austria's Foreign Minister:
"We think the commissioner is the link of one country with the Commission. And it's so important that the population feels being represented. Not only by the minister, but also by a representative in the Commission."
The EU believes the current "one country, one commissioner" system will collapse under the added weight of ten new members. In its place the constitution proposes 15 commissioners with full voting rights, and up to 15 "associate" commissioners - with a staff and an office but little else. It's this and other aspects of the draft which the smaller countries are unhappy with, and which the bigger countries are determined to defend. But the small countries deny they're ganging up on the big boys over the draft. Jan Kohout, the Czech Republic's deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs.
"This group of states is not ganging up or creating any specific firm bloc against the others, it's very, very open. This group of states is very flexible, it's ready to make compromises. And on the other hand, this group of states also expects other countries will make some compromises or will be flexible too."
But such flexibility is unlikely at the IGC. The E.U's big countries have already warned the minnows that only minor changes will be accepted in Rome. Italy, currently chairing the EU presidency, wants the constitution approved by December, in time for a lavish signing ceremony. They've even come up with a snappy slogan: "From Rome to Rome", a reference to the 1957 Treaty of Rome under which the EU was founded. But few observers believe the Italians are capable of uniting the fractious family of nations by Christmas: the E.U's small countries insist they won't be rushed.
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