Chirac in Madrid summitwith Schroeder, Zapatero

13th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

MADRID, Sept 12 (AFP) - The EU's constitution, the threat of terrorism and Turkey's EU membership bid are to top the agenda when Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero welcomes French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to a summit meeting Monday.

MADRID, Sept 12 (AFP) - The EU's constitution, the threat of terrorism and Turkey's EU membership bid are to top the agenda when Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero welcomes French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to a summit meeting Monday.  

Zapatero stressed on Sunday that Spain was returning to "the heart of Europe" by cementing ties with European Union heavyweights France and Germany, which were badly damaged by the pro-US policies of his conservative predecessor.  

The youthful Socialist leader has completely repositioned Spain's foreign policy in the five months since he took office, in the aftermath of the March 11 Madrid train bombings.  

Within weeks of winning a general election, Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and focused on rebuilding ties within the EU, vowing last week to help it develop common policies for foreign affairs, defence and security.  

Zapatero, who has described relations with its two top EU partners -- both opponents of the Iraq war -- as "fundamental", nonetheless strongly denies he is seeking to establish an EU axis between Madrid, Paris and Berlin.  

After the government of Jose Maria Aznar alienated Paris and Berlin by supporting the US-led war in Iraq, Zapatero has put Spain firmly back in the EU mainstream, a foreign policy that has overwhelming support at home.  

In the wake of the Beslan hostage siege in southern Russia, and six months after the Madrid bombings, the question of EU cooperation in the fight against terrorism is expected to top the agenda.  

The EU's constitution is also likely to feature prominently in the talks -- leaders adopted the text in June largely after Zapatero withdrew Spanish opposition to several aspects of the draft, until then a major stumbling block.  

The constitution still has to be ratified by the 25 member states, either by a referendum or a parliamentary vote, before it can come into force.  

Zapatero reiterated his strong backing of the EU constitution in an interview which appeared on Sunday in France, where the opposition Socialists are split over the issue.  

"The recent approval of the European constitution is an important milestone in the process of European integration begun after the end of World War II," he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.  

"The new constitution shows, if some still doubt this, that the union is much more than an economic partnership.   

"Through its own experience, Europe can help shape the right strategy for the international community to meet the challenges it faces," he added.  

Spain is set to hold a referendum on the constitution next February, while France plans to hold one in the second half of 2005. Germany has said it was unlikely to put the issue to a popular vote.   

French presidential hopeful Laurent Fabius took a stand this week against the text, exposing divisions within the opposition Socialists and raising the stakes for next year's referendum.  

The summit is also expected to focus on Ankara's bid to join the bloc, as the European Commission prepares to deliver a report assessing Turkish reforms demanded by the EU, notably in the field of democracy and human rights.  

The EU's 25 leaders will decide in three months whether the vast and relatively poor country with a mainly Muslim population but a strictly secular system has made sufficient progress to sit down at the negotiating table.  

Ankara's accession bid has stirred controversy across the EU. Turkey has been an official candidate for EU membership since 1999 but is the only country so far to have failed to begin membership talks.  

The French and German leaders are expected to arrive early Monday evening in Madrid, where Chirac is to meet briefly with King Juan Carlos before the start of the summit talks, due to last only two hours.  

Both are due to fly out of Madrid following an official dinner scheduled for 8:00 pm.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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