Meeting near Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac said they want an agreement on a new European Union constitution before the end of the Irish EU presidency in June.
No, you go first: Schröder and Chirac.
The French and German leaders revived hopes for the European Union’s stalled constitution on Monday after they said they want an agreement on it before the six-month Irish presidency of the EU runs out at the end of June.
Meeting in Genshagen, south of Berlin, Schröder and Chirac were unanimous that the future of the EU had to be dealt with soon.
"We agreed that it's our joint wish that the constitution issue should be resolved by the end of June during the Irish presidency," Chirac said at a joint news conference with Schröder. "If this does not happen then in any case we must try to find an accord by the end of the Dutch presidency at the end of 2004," he added.
Warming Franco-German ties
The move is a further sign of deepening Franco-German ties. The two leaders have forged a close political relationship since last year when they both opposed the Iraq war and have seen eye to eye on hotly-debated issues such as a post-war Iraqi order, the EU constitution and European security and defense policy.
"Our positions on European Union themes are identical," Chirac said.
Irish Premier Bertie Ahern
Schröder was to head to Dublin later on Monday for talks with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (photo), who currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Ireland has been trying to broker an agreement on the EU constitution when it took over the presidency on Jan 1.
Bedevilled EU constitution
The new constitution is supposed to prepare the EU for May, when it expands from 15 to 25 members. Most observers consider the bloc’s current institutional set-up as too unwieldy and inefficient. Besides ending the rotation of the EU presidency amongst the national governments, the draft constitution aims to streamline the EU Commission and decision-making.
EU constitution talks broke down last December after Poland and Spain refused to accept newly weighted voting rights in the draft text, which would greatly curtail their voting rights in the EU council of ministers. The two countries were the main beneficiaries of the 2000 Nice treaty, which gave them just two votes less than the much more populous France and Germany.
The issue has pitted France and Germany against Spain and Poland, a future EU member.
Not willing to compromise
Schröder however said on Monday that Berlin and Paris did not want agreement on the constitution "at any cost."
"We must stick to the principle of double majority," he told reporters in Berlin. "We want progress on the issue of majority voting and we also think that the question of the efficiency of the work of the Commission must be better secured than is currently the case."
Chirac added: "We want a smaller Commission that in the future can work efficiently. It is also our wish that the work of the European Council does not become bogged down by excessive demands for agreement."
Schröder and Chirac also said they were sticking with demands for a freeze on the EU budget until 2013. France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria - all of which are net contributors to the EU – made the budget freeze demand last December in an open letter.
With a little bit of British help
The Franco-German duo hopes their efforts will be given additional clout by the British prime minister Tony Blair who is expected to join in a trilateral summit in Berlin next week.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair
Both Schröder and Chirac hope that the Franco-German motor, ideally beefed up a bit with the help of Britain’s Tony Blair (photo), will create new momentum for a breakthrough in talks on the future of Europe.