French and German leaders said on Friday Europe must unite and press ahead with ratifying the EU Constitution. At the same time, a clash threatens to split the bloc over the upcoming budget debate.
Schröder and Chirac reaffirm the importance of the EU Constitution
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made a joint appeal in Paris on Friday for the process of ratifying the EU Constitution to continue despite referendum defeats in France and the Netherlands and the suspension of a plebiscite in Britain.
The leaders of the two countries that have been the traditional motor behind EU integration emphasized the need for Europe to pull together and set forth the democratic process it began.
French and German leaders meet in Paris to discuss the future of the EU Constitution and budget talks
Chirac said member states must unite in the "difficult times" following the French and Dutch rejection of the charter. "We are in agreement in reaffirming how much the European Union … needs above all to unite and to reflect," the French president said.
No premature conclusions
Speaking at a press conference alongside Chirac, Schröder said it would be "premature" to give up on the constitution, which was designed to make decision-making easier in the enlarged, 25-nation Union. The EU should wait until other countries have voted on the constitution before taking a decision on its future.
"It's too early to draw any preliminary conclusions. I think we have to first wait for the upcoming referendums in Denmark, Portugal and Luxembourg and other countries," he told reporters, implying that EU leaders should hold off on taking a decision on the future of the constitution until at least their end-year summit.
Luxembourg is set to hold a referendum in July, Denmark in September and Portugal in October.
EU crisis widens
Chirac welcomes Schröder at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 10 June 2005.
Ahead of next week's mid-year summit, discussion about the future of the EU threatened to take another downward spin after Schröder and Chirac joined forces to criticize Great Britain's stance on the bloc's budget. The two leaders announced on Friday they wanted Britain to give up a hard-won five-billion-euro (six-billion-dollar) annual rebate it gets from the EU budget – something British Prime Minister Tony Blair has bluntly ruled out.
"Above all our British friends must recognize how things have changed and the need for greater equity in the financial charges that each country bears," Chirac said addressing plans to reorganize the bloc's budget for 2007-2013 at next week's summit.
Chirac said the EU rebate Britain won in 1984 after tough negotiations with then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher was outdated. Each EU member state "must make an effort" so that the bloc's financial problems do not exacerbate the political ones revealed by the resistance to the EU constitution.
But Blair has refused to give way, calling instead for a "fundamental review" of EU spending, including a revision of costly EU agricultural subsidies from which French farmers greatly benefit.
France and Germany's forceful stance, and Britain's stubbornness to yield sets the scene for a dramatic summit of EU heads of state and government in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.