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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK


France says 'non' to UK

European Union: France rejects a "big three"

The UK cannot become one of the European Union's "big three" because it is not in the first wave of monetary union, France has said.

BBC Europe Correspondent David Shukman: "Cold water poured on hopes"
French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine flatly rejected leadership of the EU by a UK-France-Germany triumvirate of centre left governments in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"I do not see the concrete significance of such a formula," he said.

Mr Vedrine described the plan, which was suggested by Germany's new Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and tacitly supported by the UK, as unfeasible for as long as the UK remained outside the euro.

'Like-minded triangle'

"It goes without saying that it is positive for the three capitals to get on well.

[ image: Vedrine: The UK cannot lead if it is outside the euro]
Vedrine: The UK cannot lead if it is outside the euro
"But, despite its weight, Great Britain cannot yet have the same role in Europe as those countries which have created the euro and will join it," he said .

Mr Vedrine then went further, saying that he could not see any grouping with a third country replacing the France-Germany "motor" of European integration.

Post-war French-German rapprochement was the original foundation for the project of European integration and France has jealously guarded its leadership role ever since.

But Mr Schroeder has suggested this relationship is nearing its end and should be replaced by a London-Bonn-Paris "triangle" of governments led by like-minded politicians, such as himself, UK prime minister Tony Blair and French premier Lionel Jospin.

Natural third partner

Mr Vedrine went on to say that leadership rather than alliances were what Europe needed.

"We can no longer reason as we once did, in terms of alliances, excluding those who are not part of them," he said.

"It's more a question of knowing who is capable of providing momentum, of launching proposals."

Mr Vedrine's comments are likely to disturb British Europhile politicians, in as much as they indicate that France clearly intends to deny the UK a central role in the EU for as long it remains outside key European projects.

In addition, talk of a "big three" including the UK is likely to provoke a strong reaction from Italy, which sees itself as the natural third partner in the European project.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was forced to drop a similar "big three" suggestion within days of coming to office after a furious denouncement by the Italians.

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