Kohl and Chirac plan new Europe

The President of France and the Chancellor of Germany have sent a joint letter to other European leaders, setting out their common position on the future of the European Union.

The letter, to be made public today as Jacques Chirac and Helmut Kohl meet for their latest summit in the German spa town of Baden Baden, contains recommendations for the reform of EU institutions in the run-up to next year's inter-governmental conference (IGC), but also expresses views on the overall direction the European Union should take.

Refusing to divulge exact details of the letter yesterday, the French President's spokesman, Catherine Colonna, stressed that it was "a basis for reflection and discussion" and directed at making the EU "more effective, more democratic and closer to ordinary citizens". Even in her four-point outline, however, there were indications that some of the Franco-German positions would not please the British government.

France and Germany, it was suggested, want the EU to have a much higher international profile, a wish that appears to presuppose a common foreign policy.

The Franco-German letter also reportedly calls for closer cooperation in judicial and police matters, especially on questions of "asylum and immigration", but also against terrorism, crime and drugs. While clearly intended to allay German fears about French backsliding on the Schengen treaty on open borders (and perhaps allow France to postpone implementation longer than it already has), the question of judicial and police cooperation has wider implications. Britain has not signed the Schengen treaty, and objects to the idea of a European judicial system beyond the court already in existence.

The French account of the joint letter also mentioned the need for European institutions to be more responsive to people in member countries, and the controversial question of institutional restructuring.

The joint Franco-German letter is being released a week before the European summit in Madrid, which is expected to finalise preparations for the IGC. But its release at the Franco-German summit suggests a diplomatic effort by both countries to show that they are still functioning together as the "engine of Europe" despite doubts about the extent of President Chirac's commitment to political union, and despite the social unrest in France that threatens its ability to meet the Maastricht criteria for monetary union.

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