Paris, Berlin close ranks for EU summit

9th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were to meet Tuesday in a carefully scheduled show of solidarity just ahead of an EU summit this week that will test their support of a European constitution.

PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were to meet Tuesday in a carefully scheduled show of solidarity just ahead of an EU summit this week that will test their support of a European constitution.

Schroeder's visit to Paris, though billed as one of his informal lunches with Chirac that have become a regular feature on both leaders' agendas, pointedly came three days before the summit to be held Friday and Saturday in Brussels.

Previous Franco-German get-togethers have resulted in the two biggest EU states -- in terms of both populations and economies -- joining forces to push their views through the European decision-making process, often in the teeth of fierce opposition from other partners.

Most recently, and most controversially, France and Germany won around eurozone governments to letting them off the hook for running budget deficits that violated the 1997 growth and stability pact underpinning the single currency.

Mario Monti, the competition commissioner for the European Commission which had been threatening to implement hefty fines for the violations, told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper last week that the two "have killed the pact for purely practical purposes."

Similar ire was heard from the lips of British Prime Minister Tony Blair a year ago when Chirac and Schreoder stepped together to block reform of the European Union's costly agricultural subsidy programme until 2006.

Their firm opposition to the US invasion of Iraq has apparently only sealed the bond, much to the chagrin of Britain, Italy, Spain and several central European countries in line to join the EU which all gave backing to US President George W. Bush's war.

That all suggests a certain amount of tension Friday when EU leaders gather to consider a constitution that would set out the relative influence of each member country once the bloc expands eastwards next year to count a total of 25 states.

Many countries accept that the current EU system of consensus politics will become unworkable with such an unwieldy number, but several are wary that Paris and Berlin want to rig the common law's text so that they are de facto in the driver's seat.

For their part, Chirac and Schroeder are keen to continue their two-step and see the constitution as drafted by former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing adopted.

Chirac said on the weekend, during a summit in Tunisia of southern EU and northern African countries, that it "would not be wise to question" the institutional vision laid out in the constitution, especially from new members whose demands he dismissed as "incoherent".

For all the talk of a Franco-German axis, however, officials from both countries have gone to pains to insist that their leaders had no intention to form some sort of directorate over the European Union.

"Paris and Berlin are on the same wavelength, but not 100 percent," said an analyst, Stephan Martens of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, who suggested that France might be willing to make some concessions on the way the constitution weighs voting rights.

Martens also said the two country club might be expanding with Britain's recent decision to join in creating a European defence project drawn from their three militaries.

But there was no doubting Chirac and Schroeder's determination when it came to the constitution.

"They are going to be extremely firm, take it right to the end, because they have the least to lose in case of failure," he said.

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: French news

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