Although much depends on the result of April's presidential election in France, leading members of the present centre-right government are leaning towards plans for a hard-core European political union, excluding Britain if necessary.
If, as expected, the pro-Europe Gaullist Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, succeeds President Francois Mitterrand this spring, Paris is likely to back German ideas for a two-tier EU, with a small group of states proceeding to closer integration on their own.
The British Government's hopes have been pinned on the Gaullist leader and Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, who takes a more sceptical line on the EU's federal ambitions. Mr Chirac will be in London today for talks with Mr Major and the future of the EU will figure high on the agenda. But French opinion polls suggest Mr Chirac has little chance of overtaking Mr Balladur in the race for the presidency.
In today's Figaro, the former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, outlines plans for a "European Federative Union", which would allow those states committed to monetary union to form much deeper political ties in a broad range of areas. Although Mr Giscard is not a member of the present government, he remains an influential figure on the pro-European wing of the French right.
In Paris yesterday, Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister, and Alain Lamassoure, the European Minister, said what they foresaw was not a "two speed" EU but a Union with a "reinforced core". This is a fine distinction and suggests Paris is moving closer to the German ideas, which caused consternation in Britain.
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