Chirac, Schroeder talk unity, Iraq
PARIS, France --The leaders of France and Germany were holding talks on Tuesday aimed to seek agreement on the future shape and power structure of the European Union -- as well as talking about Iraq.
President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were trying to overcome differences on EU issues and present a joint position on January 22, the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty that sealed the two countries' friendship after World War II.
If they succeed, an accord could have a decisive effect on efforts by a body led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to build a constitutional treaty for the EU by June.
Once viewed as the "motor of the EU," the Franco-German axis has faded in recent years amid disputes over funding and voting rights, but revival of the partnership is being signalled.
"Even if some have written occasionally about the motor stuttering, the last really historical steps that Europe has taken show that this relationship between Germany and France is in an extremely good state," Schroeder said in Berlin.
Schroeder, who repeated Berlin's opposition to war in Iraq at a news conference in Berlin before heading to Paris, was also talking to Chirac about policy towards Baghdad.
Rudolf von Thadden, coordinator for Franco-German relations in Berlin, said friendship declarations between the two countries would be meaningless if France ditched Berlin to take the U.S. side in U.N. Security Council deliberations on Iraq.
There was no sign of any change on Tuesday in France's stance. It gave notice that it would not succumb to pressure for war on Iraq and said eventual military action must be debated in the United Nations, where it has a veto.
"France intends to remain free in its decisions," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told parliament. "We will not allow ourselves to submit to any pressure. War is the last of all extremes."
France, as one of the Permanent Five, is one of five veto-wielding members of the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Germany has just joined the council but does not have a veto.
Chirac has made repeated calls for the the Franco-German axis to become more formalised and the Berlin government has talked of finding ways of working closer together.
One proposal is that the two countries should swap ministers to sit in on each other's cabinet meetings, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.
There could also be moves to agree common Franco-German legislation, the newspaper reported -- something that would give the two nations immense influence over the rest of Europe and which would be a concern for the British government, which could view itself as being pushed onto the EU sidelines.