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Blair Visits Berlin Ahead of EU, G8 Summits

British Prime Tony Blair touched down in Berlin on Monday for a working dinner with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder amid a mood of crisis in the European Union ahead of a Brussels summit this week.


This time, Blair and Schröder may find they have less to agree on

An AFP correspondent traveling with Blair said he arrived directly from Russia, where he met President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday.

German news agency dpa reported that Blair first met with German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel -- who will challenge Schröder in early elections this fall -- before moving on to his working dinner with the chancellor.

Their talks were expected to focus on differences over the EU budget and the bloc's new constitution.

Both of those hot-button issues will loom large when EU leaders, including Blair, gather in Brussels on Thursday for their quarterly two-day summit.

Siding with France

Bildergalerie Gerhard Schröder 6

Schröder and Chirac see eye to eye on many of the issues on the table at this week's EU summit

Schröder has emerged as a vocal champion of the embattled EU constitution, urging the bloc to press on with the ratification process despite London's decision to call off a planned referendum on it.

He has also taken the French side in the farm subsidies row, which Blair has said must also be put on the table in Brussels this week.

"Chancellor Schröder is clearly on the same lines as the French president as far as agricultural subsidies are concerned," government spokesman Bela Anda said Monday.

Although many observers predicted a Franco-British row over the rebate issue and farm subsidies within the bloc to dominate the tour, a Blair spokesman insisted that the talks remain principally focused on the summit of the Group of Eight industralized countries in Gleneagles next month.

Britain is this year chairing the G8 and ending chronic poverty in Africa is one of Blair's top concerns for the meeting, along with real progress on confronting climate change.

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