EU budget in focus at Paris-Madrid summit

7th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

ZARAGOZA, Spain, Dec 7 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and French President Jacques Chirac used annual summit talks Tuesday in this northern Spanish city to stress their desire to cooperate in fighting terrorism following a series of bombings blamed on Basque separatists.

ZARAGOZA, Spain, Dec 7 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and French President Jacques Chirac used annual summit talks Tuesday in this northern Spanish city to stress their desire to cooperate in fighting terrorism following a series of bombings blamed on Basque separatists.

Both leaders also discussed the European Union constitution which both countries are due to submit to a referendum in the coming months, as well as a range of bilateral issues and the EU budget for 2007-2013.

Chirac will notably take part in the Spanish campaign for a yes vote on February 20 with a visit to Barcelona on February 11 alongside German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whom Zapatero described as "stalwarts of Europe and great European leaders."

The Spanish leader added that he and Chirac had been in broad agreement on 90 percent of their agenda, while the latter noted that "we are determined to reach agreement on the remaining 10 percent," largely revolving around different views on EU budgetary policy.

"We have a year to resolve the problem and we will do so," said Chirac, while not denying "divergences in approach" to the issue.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin also attended Tuesday's talks, as did French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin and Spanish counterpart Jose Antonio Alonso, who celebrated the recent dismantling of the leadership of armed Basque separatist group ETA in France following close Franco-Spanish cooperation.

ETA, which has killed more than 800 people in a violent four-decade campaign for independence for the northern Basque region and parts of southwestern France, has in the past week set off a series of bombs across Spain, injuring five people on Monday, Spain's Constitution Day.

The blasts led Zapatero to tell the group it had no option other than to disarm, adding he wished to thank Chirac "in the name of all Spaniards" for the close cooperation which has brought a swathe of recent arrests of leading ETA figures.

Villepin on Tuesday insisted on behalf of France that both Paris and Madrid were "absolutely determined" to stand up to terrorism while Alonso said that "Spain considers French cooperation indispensable to bring ETA terrorism to an end."

The 17th annual Franco-Hispanic summit was the first since Socialist Zapatero came to power, bilateral relations having been strained by conservative predecessor Jose Maria Aznar's support for the US-led intervention in Iraq, which Zapatero and Chirac both bitterly opposed.

The French delegation stressed on the sidelines of Tuesday's meeting that relations between Chirac and Zapatero were excellent and marked by "friendship and confidence".

In spite of the rapprochement under Zapatero, the EU budget remains a thorny issue, however.

French sources said both nations were agreed on the need to effect a wide-ranging technical study along with Germany "to explore possible means of reaching agreement" on the six-year financial framework.

The reference to Germany, France's traditional EU ally at the heart of the 25-member bloc, relates back to the September 13 trilateral summit which Zapatero hosted, welcoming Chirac and Schroeder to Madrid.

Spain, as the main recipient of EU structural development funds, and Germany, as the major provider, come to the budget table from opposite wings of the debate while France, though a net contributor overall, benefits from substantial agricultural aid.

The countries also have differing views on the EU Stability and Growth Pact, which lay down strict debt criteria for EU members which Germany and France have in recent years overshot, in stark contrast to Spain.

Paris and Berlin, who would like to see development aid limited to one percent of overall EU gross domestic product, favour a flexible approach which would "do away with dogmatism and stress the growth aspect" rather than the deficit criterion, the French sources said.

Spain is seeking French support for a gradual or "progressive" trimming back of aid in return for support for a "supple" interpretation of the Stability Pact.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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