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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 16:53 GMT
France and Germany back EU constitution
Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac, Lionel Jospin and Joshka Fischer in Nantes
Relations, strained at Nice, have now been repaired
France and Germany have called for a European constitution describing it as "an essential step in the historic process of European integration".

While both governments have made clear before now that they back the idea, this is the first time they have done so together, and in writing.

The European constitution that both Germany and France wish will be an essential step in the historic process of European integration

Joint statement
Meeting in the French city of Nantes, French and German leaders said they wanted their countries to be a "driving force for European integration".

The 78th Franco-German summit took place less than a month before a major EU summit in Laeken, Belgium, where European institutional reforms will top the agenda.

The two leaders said they wanted the EU charter of fundamental rights, approved at the Nice summit last year, to be included in the constitution.

It is an important contribution on the eve of the Laeken summit

Belgian Foreign Ministry statement
The two countries also insisted that EU enlargement should go ahead as scheduled, and presented their ideas for a future government in Afghanistan.

They called on all Afghan factions to "act responsibly" and said they placed much hope in the conference starting in Bonn on Monday bringing together a variety of Afghan groups.

"Our goal is the formation, as soon as possible, of a transitional administration in Afghanistan," the summit statement said, "then the establishment of a legitimate, largely representative and multi-ethnic government, committed to restoring human rights."

Belgian delight

Some EU states are uneasy about the idea of a European constitution, fearing that it could erode national sovereignty.

The UK has fought against the charter of fundamental rights acquiring binding force.

However Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency, welcomed the expected Franco-German declaration.

"It is an important contribution on the eve of the Laeken summit," said a Belgian Foreign Ministry statement.

France and Germany fell out at the EU's Nice summit a year ago, but the two nations have tried to repair their relationship by holding regular meetings, often over dinner.

The Laeken summit, on 14 and 15 December, will be less momentous than the Nice summit, which agreed on fundamental reforms of the European Union necessary to pave the way for enlargement.

The main goal of Laeken is to launch a debate which will agree what further reforms are necessary before the admission of an expected 10 new members in 2004.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"Further questions of political reform remain"
Elmar Brok, EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Comm.
"It will not be as it was int he past... it will be an open debate"
The BBC's William Horsley
"It will be hard to protests coming from inside"
See also:

08 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland rejects EU expansion
11 Jun 01 | Europe
EU 'to proceed with enlargement'
18 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder's EU plans explained
16 Nov 01 | Business
Airbus denies internal tensions
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