Home News UK ‘unapologetic’ at joining Franco-German block

UK ‘unapologetic’ at joining Franco-German block

Published on 19/02/2004

BERLIN, Feb 19 (AFP) - Europe will have to get used to Britain, France and Germany meeting for three-way talks, German officials said, as analysts warned Thursday of the risk of alienating disgruntled EU partners.

At a summit here Wednesday where they agreed a series of proposals to spur the European Union economy, the leaders of the bloc’s big three insisted they were acting in the interests of all and not trying to impose their views.

Afterwards, German government sources said, they agreed to carry on meeting at regular intervals, despite stinging criticism from some of the leaders not invited to Berlin.

“You’re going to have to get used to this format,” a senior official said, both at ministerial level and the level of heads of state or government.

He said the leaders felt such summits were “fruitful and that strengthened dialogue in this format should continue in the future.”

Wednesday’s talks in Berlin, hosted by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, involved British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac as well as a handful of ministers from each country.

“We’re not trying to dominate anyone, let alone Europe,” Schroeder said in response to the criticism.

“I don’t think we need to be apologetic in any shape or form,” Blair said.

Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain had all voiced their unhappiness in different ways, with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi going as far as to brand Wednesday’s talks “a botch.”

“That was pent-up emotion,” said analyst Bernhard May of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“You can understand the criticism, but it’s more to do with prestige, with outside appearances, because they were not invited,” he told AFP.

“In terms of what is in everyone’s interests there’s no real justification for it.”

Anne-Marie le Gloannec of the Marc Bloch centre on Franco-German relations said the big three had needed a big media event to shift attention from their domestic problems.

“But it was done with a disregard for the basic principles of diplomacy and risks widening the chasm between the big and small nations,” she said.

Still, both experts agreed Britain’s entry into a Franco-German axis that was losing its steam and legitimacy would inject a new dynamism into EU affairs, partly due to its influence with the incoming members from eastern Europe.

May said the European Union, which expands on May 1 from 15 to 25 nations, could not function without the leading powers agreeing common lines.

“If they can move forward, then it’s better for everyone,” he added.

The fuss over the Berlin guest list tended to overshadow the summit itself, at which Blair, Chirac and Schroeder called for the appointment of a European commissioner with sweeping powers to push through a series of reforms aimed at making the bloc the most competitive region in the world by 2010.

They also proposed measures to stimulate economic growth, promote research and innovation, cut red tape, harmonise patent laws and provide better access to risk capital, all within a tight spending framework.


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