Aznar bids adios to his EU friends and enemies

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The Independent Online

In his final appearance at an European Union summit, Spain's taciturn outgoing Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, responded with characteristic brevity to a generous tribute from the EU president Bertie Ahern.

After a few general comments, Mr Aznar said: "Thank you and see you soon." The former tax inspector from Valladolid has never been an expressive man and yesterday was no exception as he bade an unemotional farewell to the EU. He is to be replaced by his socialist rival, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, after unexpectedly losing the Spanish general elections.

Mr Aznar's departure leaves Mr Blair without his main ally; the alliance between them helped to counter-balance the Franco-German axis. The two men agreed on key issues, such as the importance of economic reform, and developed a close rapport.

But at yesterday's summit Mr Aznar cut a lonely and subdued figure. According to the account given by Mr Ahern, the Prime Minister of Ireland, there was little by way of humour in Mr Aznar's final words to Europe's other leaders, in which he vowed to "fight terrorism to the end".

Body language said what words could not. During televised arrivals on Thursday, Mr Aznar declined to make the usual tour of the table to glad-hand colleagues.

Only a handful of fellow leaders approached Mr Aznar, among them the Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, his sole ally in last December's bruising battle on the EU constitution.