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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 10:14 GMT
Blair and Chirac's common purpose
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
The leaders prepared for next week's EU summit
Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac have spoken of the "common purpose" of both their countries ahead of next week's landmark Nice summit of EU leaders.

The two men met for an informal dinner in the prime minister's Sedgefield constituency on Thursday evening.

Mr Blair spelled out the "red lines" that Britain would draw regarding its six key vetoes, including tax and social security - but said there were many things that the EU members would share as a common purpose next week.

President Chirac said France too had its "la ligne rouge" regarding issues affecting French services and culture.

Risk of failure

Mr Blair is expected to deliver a keynote speech on the economy from his constituency on Friday, as preparations for Nice continue.

We would like to get rid of the vetoes of the other countries, because it would be in Britain's interests

Robin Cook

The meeting between Mr Blair and President Chirac follows a warning from European Commission President Romano Prodi that there was a big risk that the Nice summit could end in failure.

He cautioned that the chances of failure at the December 7-9 gathering of EU leaders - which is intended to agree deep reforms in the way the EU works - are "not small".

In the run-up to Nice, Mr Prodi has appealed for EU leaders to try to agree a package of reforms to speed up decision-making in the 15-nation EU, and prepare it to welcome up to a dozen new members, mostly from the former Eastern bloc.

Lack of progress

Mr Prodi is particularly worried at lack of progress on plans to increase the number of issues to be decided in the Council of Ministers by qualified majority voting (QMV) instead of by unanimity.

France has drawn sharp criticism over its opposition to qualified majority voting in the field of trade in intellectual property and financial services.

Britain rejects QMV on taxation and social security, while Germany is keen to defend the veto in matters of asylum and immigration.

There have suggestions that Mr Blair was prepared to relinquish the UK's right to block EU rulings in 17 of 50 policy areas where currently all 15 EU member states must agree before a decision can be taken.

Fuel protests

Speaking before Mr Chirac's arrival, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said total agreement between the EU leaders was unlikely.

"The great majority of the 50 (policy areas) are not going to get agreed at Nice, because one country or another actually objects to pretty well all of the list currently on the presidency's shopping list - including France, which actually objects to as many as ourselves," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There are a number of entries on that list because we wanted them there, because we would like to get rid of the vetoes of the other countries, because it would be in Britain's interests."

Examples of vetoes Britain would like to see ended include a German bar on easy access for British professionals to its labour market, Spanish blocks on tougher regulations of the community budget, and French opposition to liberalisation of world trade, said Mr Cook.

Mr Blair and President Chirac were met by a noisy protest from about 40 fuel tax protesters, as they arrived for dinner on Thursday at the County Hotel in Aycliffe, County Durham.

The protesters jeered, blew whistles and chanted "Down with Blair".

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See also:

30 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair and Chirac ponder EU vetoes
14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair's 'patriotic' European vision
14 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Blair rules out 'European superstate'
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