Britain hits back at Franceas EU heads clash at summit

18th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, June 18 (AFP) - Britain hit back at France on Friday in twin rows plaguing a European Union summit as EU leaders battled to agree a constitution and the next president of the bloc's executive arm.

BRUSSELS, June 18 (AFP) - Britain hit back at France on Friday in twin rows plaguing a European Union summit as EU leaders battled to agree a constitution and the next president of the bloc's executive arm.

"The British government both wants a deal and believes a deal is possible today," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman told reporters at an ongoing EU summit in Brussels.

"We think that we can do a deal (on the proposed EU constitution) which respects our position and is in the interests of Europe, but also that we resolve today the issue of the presidency" of the European Commission.

But, in a swipe at Blair's fellow summit heavyweights, the spokesman added that the quest for consensus had been upset by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

It was "unfortunate," he said, that Chirac had attacked Britain's position on Thursday before summit negotiations had begun in earnest, and that Schroeder had apparently tried to link the constitution and commission president issues.

"We believe the two things should be kept separate," he said. "We also believe that the best way to resolve this issue is by seeking genuine consensus in discussions."

According to a German government spokesman, Schroeder had made no linkage. "It was probably a misunderstanding on the British side," he said.

Chirac told reporters Thursday that he thought a deal on the constitution was possible, but added that Britain's stubborn refusal to give up veto powers on issues like taxation and social security could ruin everything.

Blair has also fought against Chirac and Schroeder's choice of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to succeed Romano Prodi as president of the European Commission.

A British official said Verhofstadt, a Flemish liberal who opposed the US and British invasion of Iraq last year, was "a little too federalist" for London, which prefers to see the EU as a club of distinct nation-states.

"It's not personal," he said. "It's about looking for a candidate who better reflects the multiplicity of the views that we have in a Europe of 25."

Blair's spokesman said: "What was clear yesterday was that there wasn't a consensus behind the candidate being pushed forward by France and Germany.

"It wasn't just our opposition; it was opposition coming from other countries such as Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Greece, Portugal," he revealed.

"There was not a genuine consensus around the room."

In an apparent swipe at Chirac and Schroeder, he added: "We accept that it is not for us to dictate who should be the next president of the commission; equally, that is true of others.

"What we all have to now accept is that we're operating in a Europe of 25 -- not a Europe of six. Or two. Or one... We have to genuinely accept both the advantages that that brings but also the need for a genuine consensus."

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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