Defence flavour to Spanish-French summit

15th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

MADRID, Nov 14, 2006 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and French President Jacques Chirac will meet Thursday in the northeastern city of Gerona and use the occasion for the inaugural meeting of a Franco-Spanish defence council.

MADRID, Nov 14, 2006 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and French President Jacques Chirac will meet Thursday in the northeastern city of Gerona and use the occasion for the inaugural meeting of a Franco-Spanish defence council.

Around a dozen ministers will attend talks not expected to result in concrete agreements, save for mutual recognition of university degrees.

However, the meeting is "a chance to show relations between France and Spain have been strongly revamped since the arrival of Jose Luis Rodriguez

Zapatero at the head of the Spanish government," according to French diplomatic sources.

Madrid's relations with Paris have recovered from their sagging state under Socialist Zapatero's conservative predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, who backed the US-led intervention in Iraq.

On taking office in April 2004, Zapatero withdrew the troops Aznar had dispatched.

The defence council is based on an existing Franco-German equivalent and reinforces links between the countries' armed forces under respective defence ministers Michele Alliot-Marie of France and Spain's Jose Antonio Alonso as well as their general chiefs of staff.

Both countries have troops serving on a range of missions under UN supervision, including Lebanon and Afghanistan while Spain agreed to send a contingent to the Democratic Republic of Congo to aid stability in the run up to last month's elections.

The increased defence cooperation comes ahead of the November 28 and 29 NATO summit in Riga, France and Spain both being members of the Western military alliance.

Chirac and Zapatero, as well as their foreign ministers Philippe Douste-Blazy and former EU Mideast envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos, will also address the situation in the Middle East as well as Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union.

Madrid, seeking to gather support for its proposal to host an international Middle East conference -- as it did in 1991 -- said earlier this month it backs Ankara to the hilt, but Paris is lukewarm.

Washington has expressed reservations on the peace conference idea, but that was before the mid-term US elections which saw Democrats take control of Congress and the Senate.

With immigration a hot issue in both Spain and France, both sides are set to leave aside Spain's regularisation of some 600,000 unregistered foreign workers last year in the belief that the issue "should be dealt with on a European and not strictly national level."

With French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy having a party engagement in Paris, the issue of armed Basque group ETA is also likely to feature only in the background, with Paris already fully behind Zapatero's drive to push a peace process held up currently by ongoing low-level violence.

France sees the issue as a Spanish one but has in recent months very effectively ramped up cross-border police cooperation.

Copyright: AFP

Subject: French news

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