Chirac delights Major with shift in EU approach





John Major's approach to Europe received a boost at the weekend with evidence that France's position is moving closer to Britain's and signs that Germany is lowering its sights a little in the race to reform the European Union.

It was, no doubt, coincidence, but as the Prime Minister met President Jacques Chirac of France on Saturday, Le Monde gave details of two documents from Germany that seem to show the Christian Democrats - Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party - were stepping back a little from federalism.

Last year two influential CDU members, Wolfgang Schauble and Karl Lamers, produced a study calling for a "hard core" of states to forge ahead with a federal Europe, and for the EU's Commission to evolve into a European government.

Le Monde said these ambitions had disappeared from the two documents, to be published tomorrow in Berlin. Though still ahead of anything Michael Portillo and the right wing of the Conservative Party could accept, the new ideas from Germany are closer to Mr Major's vision and to that of Mr Chirac.

It will be the Franco-German couple that drives the EU's reforms of its institutions which start next year, and Mr Chirac underlined the pre-eminence of that relationship when the two faced the press on Saturday. But he also stressed that Europe could not be made without Britain, and that the three states would have to be agreed before any changes could take place.

British officials were keen to point out how well the two men had got on personally. They did look as if they understood each other, certainly far more than Francois Mitterrand and Mr Major had managed.

They shared views about the importance of national parliaments and the proposed increase in EU majority voting, said Mr Chirac. (They are for the first, against the latter).

The Prime Minister said the talk at dinner on Friday had been "perhaps the most down-to-earth and practical discussion" he had heard among European heads of government for some time. Mr Major gave the strong impression that he felt his government's concerns had been listened to and taken seriously, perhaps for the first time at a top Euro-gathering.

Mr Chirac played along admirably, speaking of "understanding the British government's concerns"; he insisted that while the Franco-German alliance was ''necessary'', it was ''insufficient'' and Europe was incomplete without Britain.

He also supported Mr Major's call to examine the consequences of introducing a single currency among only a few EU members. Two further bilateral meetings were fixed: one, it seems, a "holiday" visit by Mr Major, on 29 July, "on the occasion of a visit the Prime Minister will be paying to France at that time"; the next on 30 October, when Mr Chirac will visit Chequers.

Mr Major used expressions such as ''a breath of fresh air'', "straight talking" and "lack of Euro-jargon". Official sources described the body language as "excellent", but warned against hailing a "new dawn" in British- French relations. Nevertheless, the talks came at a time when Britain's stock in France has seemed higher than for a long time - the immediate cause being co-operation over Bosnia.

One key issue for Europe in the next five years is the single currency. The second is the future of joint foreign policy, conceived at Maastricht and still in the early stages. Both Britain and France have vestigial influence as nuclear powers, with aspirations to global reach, and neither will easily relinquish that to a common EU policy.

Military co-operation has been the bedrock of the new Franco-British relationship, and in particular their joint experience in Bosnia. Co-operation on the ground has fused with a similar view of the political situation. Britain has also moved a few steps closer to Europe by signalling more interest in joint arms production, in particular Europe's Future Large Aircraft, a projected transporter.

There is a fresh test of the relationship on the horizon, however: Britain's decision about which attack helicopter it will buy for the Army. There are three contenders: the American giants McDonnell Douglas and Bell, and the Franco-German Eurocopter. It seems all but impossible that this subject did not come up in Paris, and it was probably no coincidence that the other main topic in Le Monde was the Paris Air Show.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living