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Luxembourg backs EU charter, but future unclear
Updated: 2005-07-11 08:58

Luxembourg approved the European Union's constitution by a solid majority in a referendum on Sunday, but the charter's future was still in doubt after rejections in France and the Netherlands.

The vote in the duchy of 465,000 people, which backed the constitution by 56.52 percent to 43.48 percent, averted the threat of Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's resignation and is likely to boost his already considerable clout in the EU.

He will stay on as the chairman of the group of 12 nations sharing the euro currency, which is due to meet on Monday.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (R) gestures as he casts his vote during a referendum on the European Union constitution at the Capellen Cultural Center in Luxembourg July 10, 2005.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (R) gestures as he casts his vote during a referendum on the European Union constitution at the Capellen Cultural Center in Luxembourg July 10, 2005. [Reuters]
Juncker said the result offered hope for the charter, now ratified by 13 countries, and augured well for the 25-nation EU, dogged by rifts over its economic model and future funding.

"If Luxembourg had voted 'No', then this evening Europe would have been in an ultra-serious crisis," Juncker told a news conference. "In the case that Luxembourg had said 'No', the constitution would have been dead.

"As Luxembourg said 'Yes', the process can go on ... and we will see at the very end how to react to those countries having said 'No'," he added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was less optimistic about the constitution's future. The majority of EU diplomats have said the treaty is already dead after being rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands.

"The future of the constitution is unsure following the "No" in France and the Netherlands," Barroso said.

The decision by EU leaders to start an in-depth debate on the future of the EU should proceed quickly, Barroso added.

The charter cannot go ahead unless it is ratified by all 25 member states, either in a referendum or parliamentary vote.

An EU summit in June agreed on a long period of reflection on the constitution just before collapsing into acrimony over the bloc's 2007-2013 budget.

The vote should encourage EU leaders to find a quicker way out of the doldrums, said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"It is an encouragement and invitation to all Europeans to seek joint ways of quickly overcoming the current crisis," Schroeder said, commenting on the referendum.


The summit's decision prompted the majority of EU members yet to ratify the treaty to postpone or suspend the process, but Juncker, 50, had pressed on with the referendum, promising to quit if the constitution was rejected.

Juncker, who has served 11 years as prime minister, has said closer integration is needed to prevent the EU from sliding into national rivalries that have twice resulted in world war.

An architect of the euro currency, he evoked during the campaign the wounds his father suffered during World War II, when he was forcibly recruited into the German army.

Similar arguments fell on deaf ears in France and the Netherlands, where voters appeared to be more preoccupied with economic stagnation, threats of globalization and fears of further EU expansion into countries such as Turkey and Ukraine.

The Grand Duchy, sandwiched by Germany, France and Belgium, and a founder member of the EU, is Europe's richest country in terms of gross domestic product per head -- 52,600 euros ($62,640) a year, twice that of Germany and France.

"No" campaigners in the deeply Catholic country had used the prospect of Muslim Turkey joining the EU, just as right-wingers did during the French and Dutch votes.

Juncker's success at the referendum is certain to be greeted with relief by many European leaders who admire the wily negotiator for his wry sense of humour.

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