With just over a month to go before skeptical French voters cast their ballots on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder joined forces Tuesday to back the treaty.
Schröder is lending a hand
The two leaders insisted that the constitution would strengthen the European Union's influence in world affairs, and reinforce its political and economic independence vis-a-vis the United States and emerging powers like China.
Addressing a joint press conference, Chirac said the treaty
"will allow France to be stronger in Europe and will strengthen Europe's position in the world". He warned that if the 'no' camp -- which moved ahead in the polls last month -- wins a May 29 referendum on the constitution, "France will find itself on the platform while the train passes us by".
In a speech later in the day at the Sorbonne, Schröder said: "If Europe wants to make itself heard internationally, we need the European Constitution."
"What's at stake is something truly historic: the idea of a
Europe united in response to the horrors of fascism," the German chancellor said earlier, adding he hoped that France, "the cradle of this idea, remains true to its promises".
'Non' would have enormous consequences
Posters encourage French citizens to reject the consitution. But the "non" camp is losing ground
Schröder's visit to Paris for a joint Franco-German cabinet
meeting gave the Social Democratic German chancellor a chance to help the center-right Chirac woo unconvinced voters on the political left ahead of the key vote.
The constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making in the expanded EU, must be approved by all 25 EU member states. A rejection in France would have enormous repercussions, both within the country and across the European Union.
Chirac -- who has staked his prestige on a 'yes' vote -- warned opponents that should they triumph, they would bear rresponsibility for interrupting 50 years of European construction".
By approving the text, France instead would be "making the choice of a Europe that is more social, more independent and more powerful," he said.
The two leaders said earlier in a statement that the constitution would "be an important step in terms of asserting Europe's weight in the international arena and reinforcing its ability to act for peace and security in the world".
Chirac and Schröder highlighted the fact that the constitution marked a "major step" in the realization of the "European political project", adding that it would reinforce "the sphere of activity of European defense".
"Europe must go on the offensive"
The joint Franco-German cabinet meeting, focused on industrial cooperation, was intended to showcase the dynamic nature of Europe's economy and its ability to compete with the United States and emerging economic powers.
The ministers adopted four pilot projects -- two on biomedical research, and two others on information technology -- that will bring together business consortiums and research laboratories from the two states.
In a speech at the Sorbonne, with Schröder by his side, Chirac said Europe must "go on the offensive and make a massive commitment to innovation".
"With the emergence of major players like China and India, with the United States and Japan moving forward more than ever, what's at stake is technological supremacy in this world," Chirac said.
During their morning meeting, Chirac and Schröder also
discussed the EU's 2007-2013 budget and a controversial draft EU law on the liberalization of the EU services sector.
Chirac told reporters that the so-called Bolkestein directive on the bloc's services sector "no longer exists". He added that Paris and Berlin would work to ensure that any revised draft would not include a "country-of-origin" clause which
suggests that companies could provide services throughout the EU using the laws of their own country.