French elections holding up EU business

16th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 16, 2007 (AFP) - France's presidential and legislative elections in the coming months are affecting the wider European Union, by putting on ice proposed reforms and clouding relations with Paris, European leaders and experts say.


PARIS, Jan 16, 2007 (AFP) - France's presidential and legislative elections in the coming months are affecting the wider European Union, by putting on ice proposed reforms and clouding relations with Paris, European leaders and experts say.

Germany, which took the rotating, six-month EU presidency at the beginning of January, has in effect only a few weeks left to work with French President Jacques Chirac on big EU matters -- unless the latter makes an improbable bid for a third mandate.

Instead, all of France's partners are being forced to wait and see who emerges as the winner of April presidential elections and June legislative elections.

That long period of uncertainty bodes ill for attempts to re-launch an EU constitution, following its defeat in French and Dutch referenda in 2005, Italian Prime Minister Romani Prodi said.

"(German Chancellor) Angela Merkel is well-placed and well-oriented, but with the French elections, nothing is possible," Prodi, a former head of the European Commission, told France 24 television.

"The general consensus is that we have to wait on Paris," he said.

The German ambassador to France, Klaus Neubert, acknowledged also that his country would have a tough time in pushing through initiatives during the French election campaigning cycle.

"The window of opportunity" between the French legislative poll and the June 21-22 summit ending Germany's EU president "is very narrow," he admitted to journalists.

For Guillaume Durand, at a Brussels think tank called the European Policy Centre, "the way the Germans are minimising the expectations of their presidency is mostly related to French politics in the scope of institutional reform, that's obvious."

That also runs contrary to promises by Chirac that the French-German tandem that dominates many EU affairs would continue to operate.

But another European affairs expert, Pierre Verluise, said that he believed that the French elections might allow a new broom to sweep away the detritus of the failed referendum on the EU constitution in May 2005.

"Since that date, French domestic policy and the end of Mr Chirac's mandate have hung over European issues, and everybody is waiting for that to end," he said.

The favourites to succeed Chirac as president are Nicolas Sarkozy, his interior minister, and Segolene Royal, the candidate from the opposition Socialist Party.

Both have come out in support of an EU constitution, but face an electorate that has already rejected it once.

Sarkozy has proposed a sort of "mini-treaty" that would winnow down the hefty text, but countries such as Germany that already ratified the original document are unhappy with that idea.

Royal has not advanced any clear idea on the issue, and is trying to paper over a deep split in her party on it, but she has appealed for a Europe that protects its workers and readies itself for an increasingly globalised world.

Another hot topic emerging in the French campaigns -- that of the euro's relative strength and what political steps might be taken to curb its rise -- has also served to irritate France's partners.

"Frankly this debate in France I find pretty worrying," Merkel recently told Le Monde newspaper and France 3 television.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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