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The Coming Crunch In The European Union

LONDON: Europe is heading for a showdown, with France and Germany on one side and Britain on the other, over the European Union's future. Climax will likely come next spring, but the countdown will begin at the European summit in Dublin on October 5.

The issue is simple: can France and Germany win sufficient support for a large stride towards a politically more integrated EU; or will Britain, which opposes such moves, succeed in blocking them?

France, Germany, and their allies have a four-part agenda to:

1. strengthen EU institutions, with majority voting in the Council of Ministers made easier;