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Europe

EU Reform Debate Tops Franco-German Summit Agenda

At a summit this week in Schwerin, President Jacqués Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are seeking to end a dispute over agricultural subsidy cuts that threaten to delay eastward expansion of the European Union.

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Lots of ice to melt in Schwerin

A dispute over proposed European Union common agricultural policy reforms and plans for expanded military cooperation are expected to dominate the twice annual Franco-German summit, which commenced Tuesday morning in the eastern German city of Schwerin.

French President Jacqués Chirac and Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin are meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in an effort to set a time table for reaching an agreement on Common Agricultural Policy (CAPS) reforms approved earlier this month by the European Commission in Brussels. The reforms still require ratification by the EU's 15 member nations before they can be enacted.

Schröder supports massive reductions in direct subsidy payments to farmers, but the French government has said it wants to maintain the current system and not begin negotiating what will likely be painful reforms for French farmers until 2006, the time when the EU agricultural budget agreed to in 1999 is set to expire.

Schröder, who is being accompanied at the summit by cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, wants to cut a deal with the French, but Chirac has vowed that he will fight the plan. The eastward expansion of the EU, planned for 2004, could be delayed if the two countries fail to reach an agreement by November.

Cold wind blowing between France and Germany

The debate over the Commission's agricultural reforms has recently led to frostier-than-normal relations between Germany and France.

EU agricultural subsidies are a sensitive issue for Germans, who pump 9.97 billion euro ($9.8 billion) a year into Brussels' agricultural policy coffers but only get back 5.64 billion euro. The French, by contrast, are a major beneficiary of the program, paying in 6.6 billion but receiving 8.98 billion euro back.

An agreement is said to be essential for the EU's eastward expansion plans. However, with Germany in the middle of a heated parliamentary election campaign, Gerhard Schröder will have little maneuvering room prior to September 22, which would leave just weeks until the November deadline for an EU-wide deal on the conditions for expansion that was agreed upon at a EU summit in Seville, Spain in June this year.

In an interview with the German public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French Green and member of the European Parliament, said that relations between Germany and France had become "paralyzed" by the dispute.

The source of the problem, he said, was"differing assessments" of Europe's responsibilities with regard to expansion the countries have developed.

Still, he said it is important for France and Germany to work together to protect their citizens from U.S. hegemony. The two countries, he said, should replace the 1963 treaty with a new vision that provides an alternative model to a world that is unilaterally controlled by the United States

Expanded military cooperation

The two countries are also expected to announce a deal on Tuesday at the Schwerin summit merging the countries' military satellite intelligence systems. A feasibility study to find the best way to accomplish the task will be conducted at a cost of 800,000 euro.

Discussion on the international war against terrorism and recent political developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan are also on the agenda of the last Franco-German summit to be held prior to German federal elections.

The first Franco-German summit commenced after the signing of the Elysée Treaty in 1963 by then-German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle. The treaty called for leaders from both countries to engage in regular consultations at the ministerial level and to coordinate policies that affect both countries.

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