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PM urged to back EU constitution


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Prime Minister Tony Blair has been urged to mount a solid defence of the European Union's constitution in 2005.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, stressed the importance of the constitution as more countries join.

Mr Solana told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that a No vote in the UK would raise questions about its relations with countries who voted Yes.

The UK referendum on the constitution - which the Tories say is flawed - is expected to be held in spring 2006.

However, Mr Solana said that a No vote in the referendum would not exclude Britain from the "European family".

Each of the EU's 25 member states must approve the constitution by parliamentary vote or referendum before it can take effect.

So far, Hungary and Lithuania - both new members - have ratified the constitution with a parliamentary vote.

National veto

The first popular referendum is expected to take place in Spain in February.

The constitution - agreed in 2004 - intends to make the union function more smoothly and includes an increase in the policy areas where countries lose their national veto.

It will also create a foreign minister's post.

Labour says the constitution is necessary to speed up decision making in an enlarged EU but the Tories argue it would be "bad for Britain".

In November, Michael Howard said: "The constitution will make Europe's economy even less flexible, even less competitive and even more sluggish than it is today."

However, Mr Blair insisted this was not the case and that progress had been made on making the EU economy more competitive.

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