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Europe

Schröder Says No Referendum on EU Charter

German Chancellor Schröder ruled out holding a referendum on the EU constitution and stressed German-British ties were in good shape after meeting British Premier Blair in London Thursday.

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British-German friendship on show

Talking to reporters after an hour-long meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Schröder confirmed that -- unlike Britain, France and several other EU states -- Germany will not be holding a referendum on the EU constitution.

"In Germany, the constitution forbids the referendum and we will respect the constitution," the chancellor said.

Just a day earlier, French President Jacques Chirac announced he would let France vote on the EU charter, a move that is considered risky despite opinion polls showing a majority of French citizens backing the constitution.

Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg have also said they will hold referendums on the constitution. "What the others do is the decision of the respective national governments," Schröder said when pressed on the issue.

After nearly two years of wrangling, European Union leaders agreed to the first-ever constitution for the bloc at a historic summit in Brussels last month.

The document, which is designed to streamline the complex web of institutions in an expanded EU and prevent decision-making deadlock among the bloc's 25 members, must be ratified by all EU member states in the next two years before it comes into full force.

German-British ties in good form

Schröder, one of the staunchest opponents of the US-led war to oust Saddam Hussein in March 2003, met Blair a day after an official inquiry lambasted the British government's intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as "seriously flawed" and "unreliable", but absolved Blair of responsibility for the failings.

The results, which provided some relief to a beleaguered Blair, came in the middle of what has been labeled one of Blair's toughest weeks in office since coming to power in 1997.

On Thursday, Schröder sought to present a united front with Blair and stressed that German-British relations had not been strained by their disagreement last month on nominating a successor to Romano Prodi, the EU Commission president.

Schröder said discussions with Blair were as friendly as ever and pointed out that EU leaders had finally agreed on Portuguese leader Jose Manuel Barroso for the post. "We are now going to collectively see that he is a success," Schröder said.

"Germany a brilliant investment location"

After meeting with Blair, Schröder went on to speak with British business representatives and investors informing them on the economic reforms underway in Germany.

The German government launched a drive last year to pass the "Agenda 2010" reform package, intended to overhaul Germany's creaking social welfare systems and drive down unemployment, balance the budget and jumpstart the spluttering economy.

"Germany is a brilliant investment location that should not shy away from any global comparison and does not," Schröder said.

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