Chirac and Blair: we're a 'force of harmony'

7th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 7 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac and British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday they were determined to be "a force of harmony" in the European Union and not a source of disunity.

PARIS, Oct 7 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac and British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday they were determined to be "a force of harmony" in the European Union and not a source of disunity.

"We are both determined to be a force of harmony for the Europe of tomorrow," Chirac told reporters, adding that they wanted to avoid being "a force of division".

Blair said "there would always be differences" between the two countries on some issues, but stressed that "it is important to see if we can find a way forward for Europe because that is important for Europe's citizens."

The two made the affirmations of solidarity in a joint media conference at Chirac's Elysée palace in Paris after brief talks on each leader's views on the future direction of the European Union, a discussion that comes ahead of an informal summit of heads of state and of government to take place near London October 27-28.

In a reference to the rejection this year of the EU's planned constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands, Blair said that "questions are being posed of the European leadership by the citizens of Europe, as to how we make Europe work for its citizens and improve their prosperity, security and way of life.

"The informal summit will give us an opportunity to discuss this type of issue."

Blair, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was to go on to meet French prime minister Dominique de Villepin during his one-day trip to Paris.

French officials said Blair and Chirac would discuss Europe's attachment to job protection and what reforms the EU should undertake to remain competitive in the face of increasing globalisation.

Terrorism, especially in the light of the July attacks in London, would also be examined, as would immigration issues.

The display of friendliness contrasted with the sniping the two had engaged in ahead of a failed EU summit in June, when they argued over the European bloc's 2007-2013 budget.

Then, each stubbornly pushed the other to give up costly benefits the other received from the combined EU coffers.

Chirac had called for Blair to rescind Britain's multi-billion-euro rebate from the EU budget -- a unique benefit won through tough negotiations two decades ago by Britain's then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The British prime minister said he would only consider that if France reduced the outlay from EU farm subsidies. France is the major beneficiary of the EU's agricultural spending.

France has in recent days resumed pressuring Britain to give up its EU budget rebate; France has the backing of most of the rest of the EU when its request for an end to the British rebate.

Today, the two leaders also discussed the agenda of the EU's main December summit, when the EU budget will be back under discussion.

Blair also wants to push harder to deregulate the EU economy whose lack of flexibility he blames for holding back growth and job creation, while Chirac advocates a strong social policy to protect Europe from the adverse effects of global competition.

Blair told reporters on Friday that there was a shared recognition in France and Britain that the challenge of globalisation needed to be faced.

"The question is how we meet it -- in a spirit of a competitive economy but also with a strong sense of social solidarity," Blair said.

On Monday Blair will hold talks in London with French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who leads the ruling UMP party and is a strong candidate for presidential elections in 2007. Sarkozy, widely seen is a rival of Chirac, hold views closer to Blair's on the economy and liberalisation.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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