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Europe

Chirac: EU Constitution Deal Is Top Priority

French President Jacques Chirac yesterday increased the tempo in the Constitution debate by saying that all of Europe's energy should be devoted to breaking the deadlock and securing a deal by the end of the year.

Speaking in Budapest at the end of a two-day visit, Chirac said, "The adoption of this European Constitution is the priority in the next few months: we must devote all of our energy towards it", adding that he hoped a solution could be found as soon as possible in 2004. "We are at a crossroads. Our Europe needs a new political project", he concluded, according to AP. France was seen as one of the main reasons for last December's failure to achieve agreement on the Constitution due to its intransigence on key issues. But the Irish EU Presidency has instilled new hope into the process, which once again appears to be gaining momentum. The Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, has been holding a series of bilateral meetings with leaders and will compile a progress report in March. Chirac also repeated his case for a two-speed Europe yesterday, saying that "pioneer groups" need to be set up that could move faster than others on some issues. This would allow "more flexibility", according to the French President. "Certain countries will have the desire and the ability to move at a quicker pace: let's open the door for them," Chirac said. On the other hand, "for others who are more hesitant, let's allow them as much time as they need." (EUObserver.com)

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