(Telegraph.co.uk) - Tony Blair and his fellow European Union leaders agreed last night to examine how to salvage elements of the European constitution in 2008 - ensuring that Europe will be centre stage at the next general election.
The decision at a summit in Brussels will pitch Britain back into furious arguments with France and Germany at a time when Gordon Brown is expected to be heading Labour's push for a fourth term, reports Trend.
As they moved to bury the current constitutional treaty last night, EU leaders signalled their intentions to re-open even broader and more explosive arguments over the future of Europe.
These would include plans for greater harmonisation of Union taxes, France's defence of lavish farm subsidies, moves towards a common EU defence policy, and plans for a Union president and foreign minister.
Wolfgang Schuessel, the Austrian Chancellor, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said yesterday that the "ideal scenario" would be for talks on a slimmed-down constitution to restart under the German presidency in the first half of next year, concluding in June 2008 under France's chairmanship.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said it was necessary "to keep the constitution question open and at the same time achieve concrete results for the citizens of Europe".
At today's talks, leaders will deliver the last rites over the corpse of the constitutional treaty, a year after French and Dutch voters rejected it in referendums.
Mr Schuessel said the Dutch and French governments should make it clear "how they imagine the way forward" out of the constitutional impasse. Fifteen EU nations have ratified the new Union charter. To take effect, all 25 must approve it.
But the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen - whose own nation has put its planned referendum on hold - said: "We must accept the outcome of the referendums in France and the Netherlands."
Last night, Mr Blair was forced into an early fight to defend his flagship policy of enlarging the EU, as leaders argued over summit conclusions that several governments wanted to stress the limits of Europe's capacity to absorb new members.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, offered the clearest warning of any EU leader to date that Turkey's talks on entering the Union could be halted if it failed to comply with demands, starting with opening its ports and airports to ships and aircraft from Greek Cyprus.
Mr Brown was warned that his European problems would be compounded by inevitable Conservative calls for a referendum on any significant changes to the EU treaties as he fights David Cameron for a fourth Labour term.
Before the last elections, Mr Blair neutralised Europe as an issue by agreeing to hold a referendum before Britain endorsed the draft constitution.
With the Eurosceptic British public seemingly certain to reject the treaty, the French and Dutch No votes last year seemed to offer a miracle escape for Britain from being the "black sheep" in Europe.
However, the new plans to resurrect key portions of the text presents a fresh political trap for Mr Brown, who has been heavily critical of aspects of the European project.