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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 21:27 GMT
Analysis: EU trio's economic recipe

By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent in Berlin

It is not a diktat, it is a proposal - and the aim is to kick-start existing EU plans to boost the bloc's economy.

In a nutshell, that is the message that came out of the three-way summit that brought together the British, French and German leaders plus several of their ministers.

Jacques Chirac (left), Gerhard Schroeder (centre)  and Tony Blair (right)
The three leaders insist they are working to boost the EU as a whole
The gathering was strongly criticised by some other EU member states, in particular the Italians and the Spanish.

There was talk of a new "directoire", made up of the EU's three strongest economies, aiming to impose its will on the rest.

But the three leaders insisted this was not the case.

"If we can come to clear agreement to make our economies work better for the future, that's good for our three countries but also for Europe," said Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"There shouldn't be any sensitivity about this, or sense of exclusivity. People will work in different formats. The French-German relationship will continue to be immensely strong - and I happen to think that's good for Europe too."

Vice president

The three leaders then signed a letter to the Irish presidency of the EU, outlining their view of how to push forward the so-called Lisbon process - aimed at making Europe the most competitive world economy by the end of the decade.

The letter underlines research and development as a key area, along with a call to reduce bureaucracy "placed in the way of Europe's entrepreneurial potential."

"The regulatory framework, at European and member state level, must promote and not inhibit enterprise," it says.

The letter also calls for the creation of a new vice president of the European Commission responsible for economic policy:

"This person would push ahead with the Lisbon Agenda and co-ordinate the work of Commissioners whose portfolios are particularly important for its realisation.

"The Vice President should have a voice in all decisions on EU projects which impact on targets of the Lisbon Agenda."

Persuasion needed

There was no word on who this person should be. But much of the speculation is focused on Guenther Verheugen, the German commissioner currently in charge of EU enlargement.

The appointment will be made in November this year.

Given the frosty reception that the idea of this summit received from other EU member states, the three leaders may now face a tough job persuading their colleagues to adopt their proposals.

But the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, took an optimistic line, referring to earlier plans to give Europe its own military planning staff.

"We met in September last year and made important impulses for European security policy, which were then unanimously approved by the European Council," he said.

"The discussion we've had now also concerns all European countries...what we're doing is aimed against no-one. So we are hopeful that it will be understood also by those who were critical to begin with."

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