France keen to boost power of EU

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The Independent Online

An ambitious programme of EU initiatives, from boosting foreign policy and disaster relief to building common energy stocks and education programmes, is to be proposed by France.

Anxious to show that last year's referendum "no" vote on the European constitution has not stymied all progress within the EU, Paris plans to push for concrete measures to promote Europe as a global player. The ideas, which will be put forward by the French President, Jacques Chirac, at summits in March and June, will be possible without new legal powers. They include moves to reinforce the role of Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief. Mr Solana would have gained new powers and the title "EU foreign minister" had the EU constitution come into effect.

Senior French officials believe that his role can be enhanced without the constitutional treaty, and that he can be given greater backing to promote the EU.