Chirac delights Major with shift in EU approach

ANDREW MARSHALL

Brussels

MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

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
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss