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25 EU Leaders Sign New Constitution  - 2004-10-30

Leaders of the 25-nation European Community Friday signed the bloc's new constitution in Rome, amid tight security around the city's historic center. The ceremony was held in Italy, where the Treaty of Rome, which set Europe on its course to integration, was signed 47 years ago.

Security measures were very tight Friday morning in Rome for the arrival of hundreds of dignitaries who took part in the ceremony for the signing of the European Union's new constitution.

Heads of state and government from the 25 member states and of the four candidate states of the European Union - Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia - took part in the event on the Capitoline hill. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the dream of the European Union has become a reality.

Mr. Berlusconi says Europe finally has a constitution based on the dual and inseparable consensus of its citizens and member states.

The new charter was signed in the frescoed room of Orazi and Curiazi - the same place where six countries of the European Economic Community signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The Community has since then grown more than four-fold. and transformed itself into the European Union.

Among those present Friday was Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

"The signature of the European constitution is a crucial step forward in the development of the union, and it is fitting that it should take place here in the ancient heart of this magnificent city, in this beautiful building, where our visionary predecessors gathered half a century ago," said Bertie Ahern.

The constitution still needs to be ratified by all EU countries to take effect as planned in 2007. Italy, Spain and Germany are expected to be among the first countries to ratify the new constitution, but at least nine countries are submitting it to a national referendum.

The new constitution will create an EU president and foreign minister. It is aimed at speeding up decision-making by ending national vetoes in certain policy areas, including the economy, the judiciary and education.