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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 19:49 GMT
Chirac springs surprise on defence
Militants of the Revolutionary Communist League and police
Tear gas engulfs protesters and police
Controversy has broken out at the European Union summit in Nice over remarks by the French President, Jacques Chirac, about European defence.

Mr Chirac said operations by Europe's new joint defence force should be planned and implemented independently, albeit in co-ordination with Nato - defying earlier agreements that the force would not compromise Nato's role.


European defence must of course be co-ordinated with the alliance, but it must, as regards its preparation and implementation, be independent

Jacques Chirac
His comments came on the first day of a summit expected to be dominated by bitter wrangling over institutional changes, which have to be made before the EU can expand.

They were quickly rejected by the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who told the BBC there was no question of the UK agreeing to an independent European planning capability.

Domestic audience

The pre-agreed position on defence is due to be endorsed by the summit on Friday.

"European defence must of course be co-ordinated with the alliance, but it must, as regards its preparation and implementation, be independent," Mr Chirac said.


If anyone were to say that we should have an independent military planning capability in conflict with Nato, that would be absolutely wrong

Tony Blair
A BBC correspondent in Nice, Brian Hanrahan, says that every detail of the European defence identity has been negotiated line by line, with the UK in particular insisting there must be nothing that would compromise Nato's role.

Mr Blair said: "If anyone were to say that we should have an independent military planning capability in conflict with Nato, that would be absolutely wrong."

UK officials say Mr Chirac's comments may have been dictated by domestic political considerations, and may not signal a serious intention to tear up the pre-arranged deal on defence.

Rights charter

France has already been criticised during the preparation of the summit for bowing to national interests rather than the interests of the EU as a whole.

Romano Prodi
Prodi: Urges speedy enlargement
The summit began in a show of unity as leaders of the 15 EU states signed a Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Charter lays down civil, political, economic and social rights for citizens of EU countries, but will not be included in the treaty that is meant to be agreed at the summit.

The treaty should contain institutional changes that will allow the EU to expand from the present total of 15 member states to 25 or more.

On the agenda
Qualified majority voting on some issues
Reweighting of votes to better reflect population
Reducing numbers of European Commissioners
Enhanced co-operation
Better human rights monitoring
Charter of Fundamental Rights
BSE crisis
EU and Nato co-operation
At a pre-summit meeting with leaders of 13 candidate countries, European Commission President Romano Prodi called for a speedy conclusion to the enlargement talks.

As the meeting got under way on Thursday, police fired tear gas at protesters outside the main conference centre in Nice, where the summit is being held.

Demonstrations that began peacefully slipped out of control, as groups of protesters hurled stones and bottles at riot police, who responded with rounds of tear gas.

Arrests

A bank in a street close to the conference centre was briefly set alight.

Some 20 police were reported injured in clashes, and seven protesters were arrested.

Burning the EU flag
Protesters vent their anger at the talks
The demonstrators are from a number of groups, including anarchists and anti-capitalists. Some condemned the Charter of Fundamental Rights, saying that it would not encourage higher standards of living and only offers a minimum level of rights.

Correspondents say there is a real risk of the summit failing.

It aims to streamline the EU's institutions and voting procedures, but some countries fear that they may lose influence in the name of more efficient decision-making.

The size of the European Commission - the executive body of the union - will also be up for discussion.

Council of Ministers votes
Germany, Britain, France, Italy - 10
Spain - 8
Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Greece - 5
Sweden, Austria - 4
Finland, Denmark, Ireland - 3
Luxembourg - 2
At present it is possible for each of the 15 member states to be represented on the commission, but it risks becoming unwieldy as new members join.

The number of votes wielded by each country within the union is another point that is likely to prove contentious.

Germany wants a larger share of the votes, proportionate with being the most populous country in the union.

This has sparked a dispute between Germany and France - the two countries usually perceived as being at the core of the union.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Webb in Nice
"It will be difficult to reach an agreement here"
The BBC's Barnaby Mason in Nice
"The candidate countries are deeply concerned about the possibility of failure at Nice"
UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"Nato has first call - it has first decision"

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
07 Dec 00 | Nice summit glossary
07 Dec 00 | Europe
07 Dec 00 | Europe
06 Dec 00 | Europe
04 Dec 00 | Europe
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
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