Chirac rounds on UK rebate in treaty campaign

19th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

NANCY, France, May 19 (AFP) - The leaders of France, Germany and Poland on Thursday formed a united front in defence of the EU constitution, just 10 days before the French vote on the treaty in a crucial referendum.

NANCY, France, May 19 (AFP) - The leaders of France, Germany and Poland on Thursday formed a united front in defence of the EU constitution, just 10 days before the French vote on the treaty in a crucial referendum.  

French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski - meeting in Nancy in eastern France - also demanded that the British rebate on the EU budget be reviewed.  

But France's May 29 referendum on the EU constitution was the focus of the day, and Chirac, who has staked his personal prestige on approval of the treaty, said all three were "strongly committed" to seeing it ratified.  

With Schroeder and Kwasniewski by his side, he inaugurated Nancy's newly renovated 18th century Place Stanislas by urging French voters to say "yes" to a "fair and powerful Europe", and not to retreat within national borders.  

"Europe is stronger when it speaks with one voice. We need a strong Europe, an integrated Europe," Schroeder told a joint press conference, warning that France had the responsibility "not to leave the other Europeans in the lurch".  

Meanwhile, Kwasniewski - whose country joined the European Union in May last year - tried to ease French fears of tough competition from the low-cost economies to the east, saying Polish workers were not a threat to French jobs.  

Aides to Chirac said they hoped his summit with Schroeder and Kwasniewski - the first tripartite talks since Poland joined the bloc - would send a strong message to undecided voters about the strength of a united Europe.  

With just 10 days to go before the key referendum, the possibility of a French "non" to the landmark charter has authorities in the other 24 EU member states worried.  

Recent opinion polls show opponents of the constitution with a slight lead in France, but when the margin of error and the number of undecided voters are taken into account, the race is a virtual dead heat.  

The constitution must be ratified by all 25 member states, and a rejection by so important a country as France would leave the treaty dead in its tracks.  

The European Union's budget for 2007-2013, now in tough negotiations, also figured prominently on the agenda for the talks in Nancy, with the three leaders calling for Britain's EU budget rebate to be reconsidered.  

Chirac said the trio had agreed on the need for "fairer financing of the European budget" and to "demand re-discussion and readjustment of the British cheque".  

Since 1984 Britain has benefited from a substantial special annual payment from the European Union under an arrangement reached with then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.  

The French leader also hit out at the massive increase in Chinese textile exports to the European Union, urging Brussels to do more to protect European jobs - and emphasizing that the constitution would help secure those jobs.  

"The considerable increase in Chinese textile exports to our countries calls into question the jobs of thousands of workers. We cannot accept this without doing anything," the French leader told reporters.  

Chirac and Schroeder also dismissed any possibility of renegotiating the EU constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making in the expanded bloc.  

"There will obviously be no renegotiation," the French president said, while Schroeder called the concept of a so-called "plan B" a "pure illusion".  

Already feeding on public dissatisfaction with France's stagnant economy and government reforms, the "no" camp also gained a boost in the past week with renewed talk of a possible "plan B" should the French reject the treaty.


Subject: French News

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