France, Germany gang up for EU fight with Britain

10th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 10 (AFP) - A crisis in the European Union sparked by French and Dutch voters' rejections of the EU's constitution worsened Friday when France and Germany ganged up on Britain ahead of an important summit next week meant to reorganise the bloc's budget for 2007-2013.

PARIS, June 10 (AFP) - A crisis in the European Union sparked by French and Dutch voters' rejections of the EU's constitution worsened Friday when France and Germany ganged up on Britain ahead of an important summit next week meant to reorganise the bloc's budget for 2007-2013.  

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, meeting together in Paris, told a joint news conference they wanted Britain to give up a hard-won EUR 5 billion (USD 6 billion) annual rebate it gets from the EU budget - something British Prime Minister Tony Blair has bluntly and repeatedly ruled out.  

"Above all our British friends must recognise how things have changed and the need for greater equity in the financial charges that each country bears," Chirac said.  

The two leaders, representing the Franco-German axis that has long driven the European project, also urged the process of ratifying the moribund constitution to continue, despite the two referendum defeats that theoretically kill it off and Blair's decision to suspend a plebiscite on the charter next year.  

"We are both in agreement in reaffirming how much the European Union... needs above all to unite and to reflect," Chirac said.   Schroeder, at his side, said it was "premature" to consider the EU constitution a dead letter.  

France and Germany's forceful and shared stance, and Britain's refusal to yield set the scene for a dramatic summit of EU heads of state and government in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.  

The atmosphere was expected to be especially tense between Chirac and Blair, whose usually polite relationship has degenerated into acrimony at times in the past over EU matters.  

Chirac said the EU rebate Britain won in 1984 after tough negotiations by then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher was "now old". 

He said each EU state "must make an effort" so that the union's financial problems do not exacerbate the political ones revealed by the resistance to the EU constitution.  

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to give way, calling instead for a "fundamental review" of EU spending - implied to mean a revision of costly EU agricultural subsidies from which French farmers greatly benefit.  

The French president, whose authority at home has been enormously weakened by his country's rejection of the EU charter, countered by saying he would not overturn a deal he and Schroeder struck in 2002 to keep the agricultural subsidy system intact until 2013.  

"Everyone must pay his share... but I am not prepared to compromise" on the EU Common Agriculture Policy, he said. 

Schroeder did hold out the promise that France and Germany were ready to make a unspecified, "constructive compromise" at the summit.  

It was the leaders' second get-together in the wake of French and Dutch rejection of the EU charter in the past two weeks.  

A former European commissioner, British parliamentarian Neil Kinnock, accused Chirac of using the row over the British budget rebate as a diversion from his own problems over the EU constitution.  

"Chirac playing these diversionary games simply adds to the discredit," said Kinnock, who is a member of Blair's Labour Party.  

Commentators noted that Chirac and Schroeder will be going into the summit severely weakened.  

Chirac faces a lame-duck presidency to the end of his mandate in 2007 because of the referendum debacle, while various electoral defeats in Germany have left Schroeder with little prospect of holding on to power in polls next year.  

On the other hand, Blair last month won a third mandate and is governing one of the rare vibrant economies among the major EU members.  

A veto from him would scuttle the summit and delay EU budget decision to early next year.  

"Tony Blair may not have the intention of ruining the European summit. But he has the power to do so. That's his strength," the French newspaper Le Figaro said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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