Chirac becomes German for a day

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The Independent Online

The EU's first summit leaders' job share won plaudits yesterday, as the French President, Jacques Chirac, stood in for Gerhard Schröder, at an EU heads-of-government meeting. M. Chirac, who answered through an German interpreter at a press conference, called himself the German Chancellor's "spokesman", rather than Germany's representative.

Mr Schröder took the unprecedented step of asking the M. Chirac to speak for him because he and his foreign minister were needed in Berlin for a crucial parliamentary vote.

But the move was also a strong symbol of the health of the reinvigorated Franco-German relationship. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who chaired the meeting, introduced M. Chirac by saying: "It's a great honour for Germany to have its positions represented by you."

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, ruled out ever letting Britain be his spokesman. "I think we will always be at the day where Ireland will speak for Ireland," he said.