Will be the EU constitution killed off?

Britain appeared last night to have averted a row with its European partners after &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2002/08/23/35082.html ' target=_blank>Jack Straw stopped short of canceling the EU constitution referendum outright.

Most countries gave a measured response to Mr Straw's statement, with one arch federalist even praising Britain for not killing off the constitution.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister widely criticised last week for calling for the ratification process to continue, said: "The treaty is not dead. For that to be the case, the British would have to say they will not ratify, they did not do that."

Britain had feared Mr Straw's decision to put the referendum legislation on ice might spark a row with France and Germany, which both want the process to continue. Government sources said Paris and Berlin might have used yesterday's statement to blame Britain for killing off the treaty, allowing &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2002/02/12/26365.html ' target=_blank>Jacques Chirac to avoid explaining what he will do after the French no.

Mr Straw prepared the ground carefully by briefing his European counterparts. In a series of calls, he made clear that Britain would retain the referendum option and that he did not want to prejudice next week's crisis talks at a Brussels summit. His tactics seemed to have paid off. There was little warmth towards Britain, but neither was there hostility, reports the Guardian Unlimited.

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