Regrets? I've had a few, Chirac admits at EU summit

9th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, March 9, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac bowed out of what is likely to be his final EU summit on Friday, admitting regrets about misjudging French opposition to the EU's draft constitution.

BRUSSELS, March 9, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac bowed out of what is likely to be his final EU summit on Friday, admitting regrets about misjudging French opposition to the EU's draft constitution.

"I'm sorry, maybe, to not have done everything that was needed to avoid what was a bad thing for Europe and for France," Chirac, who is expected to draw the final curtain on his political career on Sunday, told journalists.

"We failed in the referendum and, to tell the whole truth, I was a bit surprised," he said.

French voters' rejection of the European Union's draft constitution in May 2005, along with a 'No' vote from the Dutch several days later, plunged the EU into one of its worst crises ever.

It also dealt a painful blow at the time to Chirac and his government, which had campaigned hard in favour of the carefully negotiated text.

Although Chirac will celebrate the bloc's 50th anniversary with other leaders later this month in Berlin, the Brussels meeting was his last chance to leave his mark on EU decision-making.

A veteran of EU summitry, the French leader made his last stand defending nuclear energy at the summit, which was devoted to fighting climate change with targets agreed for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and using renewable energy.

While the rejection of the constitution clouds Chirac's EU legacy, he is likely to be best remembered in Brussels for his staunch defence of French interests, which has attracted both respect and scorn from his colleagues.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has often locked horns with the French leader, said that Chirac was true to form at the summit and that he was "as focused, as energetic and as presidential as ever."

When pressed on what Europe would be like without Chirac, Blair responded that "that's a question probably best answered at a later stage."

Spats between Blair and Chirac have at times provided a dramatic backdrop to otherwise often dull summits, with the two clashing over the years on subjects ranging from farm subsidies, to the EU budget and the Iraq war.

A Euro-sceptic 30 years ago, Chirac eventually warmed to the EU cause, seeing close ties between European states as the only possible counterweight to domination by the United States and emerging powers such as China and Brazil.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and long-time Chirac ally said that his departure spelled the end of a dying breed of European politicians as new generations of leaders come to power across Europe.

"I read with restrained pleasure in the international press that I am Europe's last dinosaur," Juncker said.

"Those who say it do so not out of love for big animals, but this description doesn't bother me," he added.

Chirac's EU adieu comes amid a shifting European political landscape with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi emerging shaken from a recent crisis, Blair increasingly seen as a lameduck, and looming French presidential elections in April and May.

Describing Chirac as a "warm man", Juncker said that "he is one of those people who did everything to make Europe progress after some hesitation in the beginning."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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