Divisions ahead of Eu summit

20th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, June 20, 2007 (AFP) - Britain and France held "positive" talks Tuesday aiming to narrow differences ahead of a crunch European Union summit, while admitting that significant divisions remained.

LONDON, June 20, 2007 (AFP) - Britain and France held "positive" talks Tuesday aiming to narrow differences ahead of a crunch European Union summit, while admitting that significant divisions remained.

The cautious assessment came as European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso warned that failure to strike a deal at the EU summit in Brussels Thursday and Friday would pose major problems for the bloc.

"Failure would set back our work across the board," he said in the French city of Strasbourg. In the latest attempt to seek a breakthrough, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Nicolas Sarkozy held a 30-minute conference call -- but spokesmen for both signalled afterwards that tough talking still remains.

"We know that divergences of views remain on the eve of the summit. It is not certain that we will reach an agreement. The reservations of some players are still strong," said French presidential spokesman David Martinon.

In London, Downing Street described the talks -- which also involved Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who succeeds Blair next week -- as positive, but reiterated Britain's "red lines" in negotiations on a new treaty, which the EU is seeking to hammer out at the summit.

The three men "agreed that the UK and France should work closely together to help create an amending treaty. They agreed it would be impossible to return to a constitutional treaty as rejected by France and Holland," a Downing Street spokeswoman said, referring to defeated referendums in the two countries two years ago.

But she said that Blair had "said there was no possibility of the UK losing control of key policy areas, such as foreign policy, policing and taxation, as a result of the EU reform."

By Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to unveil to the public the outlines of a new treaty to replace the bloc's failed constitution -- a feat which, if successful, would end a two-year political stalemate.

It would relaunch confidence in the European project and, if a treaty is ratified as planned by 2009, remove a problem that would undermine elections to the European Parliament that year.

But four big obstacles stand her way, having met at least eight leaders in as many days in her quest for a deal, in the shape of Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Poland, countries far less attached to the old constitution.

They are standing fast on such issues as the powers of any future EU foreign minister and the Charter of Fundamental rights, how much control Brussels should have over national affairs and the way votes are shared among countries.

Certain EU symbols -- like the "Ode to Joy" hymn and gold-starred flag -- will not be referred to, nor will the word "constitution" itself.

Yet with the summit starting on Thursday, the job of cherry-picking the best parts of the old constitution appeared a daunting task.

Poland has chanted a treaty mantra of "square root or death" in recent days, rhetoric aimed at implying it will go all the way to ensure that voting powers allocated to each state are based on the square root of their population.

"No one can count on our acceptance. And the extreme solution will be the veto," Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned Tuesday.

Kaczynski also said on Polish public television that his twin brother Lech, the country's president, was likely to replace him at the summit.

Barroso meanwhile urged hardliners blocking agreement to give ground.

"Please avoid appearing as blocking. This is not intelligent, this is not in your interest," he said. "Defend your positions, but don't come with these red lines and vetoes," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on Tuesday accused many fellow European countries of being "in denial" over the constitution, voicing frustrations at a lack of negotiations in the run-up to the Brussels summit.

"Most of our colleagues, bluntly, have been in denial, saying things like 'people signed up to this in 2004 so therefore we must all agree with it now'," Beckett said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article