Rejection strains Franco-German axis

30th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

BERLIN, May 30 (AFP) - Germany insisted on Monday that the rejection of the European Union constitution by its closest ally France did not leave the treaty dead in the water.

BERLIN, May 30 (AFP) - Germany insisted on Monday that the rejection of the European Union constitution by its closest ally France did not leave the treaty dead in the water.

However the Franco-German axis - often referred to as the driving force of the European project - faced an uncertain future despite Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's insistence that the partnership was not in danger.

Schroeder conceded that the clear-cut French outcome was "a setback" but said it was not the end of the road for the constitution, which Germany has already ratified without a referendum.

"I greatly regret the outcome of the referendum in France, but at the same time we must respect this vote," the chancellor said late on Sunday.

"It is a setback for the process of ratifying the constitution, but not its end.

"It is also not the end of the Franco-German partnership in and for Europe.

"This is an opinion shared by French President Jacques Chirac, whom I have already spoken to on the telephone."

Yet while German leaders stopped short of accusing French voters of betraying their fellow founding members of the European Union, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier highlighted the potentially devastating effect of the result on the Franco-German partnership.

"This is the first time in 50 years that the French and Germans have diverged in Europe on a fundamental issue. Without this constitution, Europe is broken down politically," Barnier said on French national television.

He said the Franco-German conception of the EU faced being superseded by a "much more liberal Europe, one big supermarket".

His German counterpart Joschka Fischer said that while it was "without doubt a setback", it was "not the end of the process of integration".

"We must now analyse the reasons for the French result," Fischer said at a press conference.

However, he added, "we will not get a better treaty than this one".

Ulrike Guerot, an analyst at the Berlin-based German Marshall Fund Institute, said Germany must now take the lead in guiding France out of the political chaos the referendum had created.

"What I wouldn't like to see is Germany falling in behind France. It should be the other way round, with Germany extending a hand to a France which needs to modernise and accept a dose of reality about the Europe of the future," Guerot said.

Regret at the result in France, where 55 percent of voters rejected the constitution, came from across the German political spectrum.

The leader of the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel, who will challenge Schroeder at elections expected in September, said the outcome showed that politicians must make Europe easier to understand.

"And we will only be successful if we really take people's concerns and worries seriously," Merkel said.

"If we overstretch the European Union and fail to abolish excessive bureaucracy, we will have trouble making it work."

Schroeder meanwhile insisted that the remaining 15 countries of the European Union who had yet to ratify the treaty should continue with the process.

The constitution is designed to facilitate the transition to a 25-member EU, but all member states must approve the text before it can take effect.

Germany last week became the ninth country to ratify the constitution when the Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament, overwhelmingly approved the treaty.

The lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, had earlier passed it with a huge majority.

The text was not put to a referendum in Germany, but opinion polls showed that 60 percent of the public were in favour.


Subject: French News

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