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Euro-Parliament demands open debate on treaty change

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Parliament has told Germany and France, who want to change the EU's treaty in response to the debt crisis, that lawmakers will demand a "six-month" no-holds-barred public consultation.

"The European Parliament will insist on organising a Convention," said the assembly's business chief Klaus Welle, meaning an open-to-all exercise entitling everyone from the full 27 EU member states to its half a billion citizens to participate.

The demand was issued at a meeting with EU ambassadors in an "encrypted" document seen by AFP on Monday as Paris and Berlin begin talking about narrower agreement on far-reaching changes only between an inner group of euro currency countries.

While governments have frequently spoken of a feared "Pandora's Box" opening under a full-scale treaty rewrite, Britain leads a small number of EU states sensing an opportunity to re-shape relations with a European Union bogged down by the crisis and bailout costs.

EU leaders will examine at a closed-door summit on December 8-9 Germany and France's bid to change the treaty so as to render failsafe new budgetary rules in exchange for financial security guarantees to heavily-indebted partner nations.

But British Prime Minister David Cameron has already warned that if the current Lisbon Treaty -- years in the making and almost wrecked by initial rejection in referendums -- needs re-shaping, he will seize the opportunity to demand a repatriation of some powers given to Brussels.

Cameron, joined by such as Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, has already been at the forefront of mounting efforts over the past year to clip EU spending across the board.

Theoretically, Welle told the ambassadors, the parliament "saw a priori no problem in creating a multi-speed Europe -- if this helps in advancing the European project" of post-World War II integration, dear to the elected body's heart.

However, "if the European Parliament is kept aside, it is likely to come up with its own agenda -- in which case it would be very difficult to limit the scope of treaty change," Welle underlined, according to the document.

The EU parliament acquired co-legislative powers for the first time under Lisbon, which entered into force last year, and is eager to flex these new-found muscles in order to strengthen its hand further.

During the debate among the ambassadors, the top French and German diplomats each argued that the EU "should not shy away from" tackling treaty change, even if it meant exposing the non-euro parts of the bloc to the risk of wrecking tactics.

Italy, however, while indicating it was "ready to consider" changing Lisbon, said it "does not believe it is the best solution to the current problems." This position was articulated after new premier Mario Monti visited Brussels.

An EU provision for "enhanced cooperation" exists, which requires one third of the current 27 states -- in other words, nine of the strongest euro economies potentially -- to club together to create a legal inner cabal.

This mechanism worked for a harmonisation of laws affecting EU couples undergoing divorce, although only after endless bickering.

But in another area, covering business patents, the process been snarled up in legal challenges from Italy backed by Spain, each of whom were left on the outside looking in after difficult negotiations.

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