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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 21:19 GMT
Snapshot of strained relations
EU summit
Group photo: Not so happy families
By BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott

Politicians are not known for being camera shy - except when it comes to posing with the ostracised Austrian Chancellor.

This was supposed to be a "citizen's summit" - promising much harmony - but relations threatened to became somewhat strained over the line-up of the official "family photo".


EU summit 'group photo'
Tony Blair studiously ignores the Austrian Chancellor
French President Jacques Chirac refused to pose with Wolfgang Schuessel, who EU leaders have criticised for cutting a deal with the Austrian Freedom Party.

The party's figurehead, Joerg Haider, has previously expressed sympathy for Nazi social policies.

According to one newspaper, the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt had also warned he would not have his photograph taken with Mr Schuessel.

But some quick-thinking on the part of the Portuguese delegation avoided a potentially embarrassing moment.

The camera never lies

Enter Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo - who was attending the EU's extraordinary summit on employment to sign a trade agreement with Europe.

The "family photo" was cancelled only to be substituted for a "group photo" - for those people who wanted to have their photograph taken with Mr Zedillo.

The change of name and inclusion of a guest head of state was a small gesture, but enough for Mr Chirac to agree to pose for the cameras.

But it was still not going to be all smiles.

On the extreme left of the line-up, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair stood - uncomfortably - next to Mr Schuessel.

However, he managed to avoid interaction with the Austrian leader by engaging Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in an animated conversation.

The resulting photograph is likely to be seen as a snapshot of a period of strained relations between the EU and Austria, rather than a record of a serious business event.

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