Sarkozy seen in haste on EU debut

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 17:48 [IST]
 

BRUSSELS, May 22 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to spell out his commitment to a quick treaty reforming the European Union's creaking institutions on his inaugural visit to Brussels on Wednesday.

A week after taking office, Sarkozy will underline to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso his drive for a deal at a summit next month on a treaty to replace the EU constitution rejected by French voters in 2005.

But he is not expected to reveal whether or not he will block Turkey's EU membership negotiations, as he vowed during the election campaign to do, because Paris is still weighing its options, diplomats said.

The centre-right leader called last year for a ''mini-treaty'' enshrining key institutional reforms in the defunct charter to be ratified by parliament, with no new referendum.

He has since replaced that term with ''simplified treaty'' to placate the 18 EU countries that have ratified the constitution and do not want to see its substance shredded.

After meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, holder of the 27-nation bloc's rotating presidency, Sarkozy said in Berlin last week: ''The first emergency is to get the European Union out of its current paralysis.'' Diplomats said his election had created momentum for a deal at his maiden EU summit on June 21-22, and they believed British Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending his final summit in office, would also want an agreement to add to his European legacy.

POLISH UNCERTAINTY The treaty, to be drafted in detail later this year, would provide for a long-term president of the EU, a foreign minister, although with a different title, a simpler and more democratic voting system and more say for national parliaments.

The main uncertainty surrounds Poland, whose conservative nationalist leaders have raised a potentially deal-breaking demand to reopen the reformed voting system that gives greater weight to big countries in EU decision-making.

EU officials and diplomats said disputes between Brussels and Paris over economic nationalism, world trade negotiations and Turkey's candidacy were unlikely to figure prominently on Wednesday's agenda.

After a private meeting with Barroso, Sarkozy will dine with the Commission president and his five vice-presidents, but he will not meet the commissioners for trade, the internal market, competition and enlargement.

Barroso warmly embraced Sarkozy, a fellow conservative reformer, as a ''convinced and convincing European'' when they met last year and aides said the EU chief would do everything to build a relationship of trust with the new French leader after difficult relations with his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

''Barroso knows he will need Sarkozy's support to get a second term (in 2009). He'll probably avoid the irksome economic issues,'' one EU insider said.

At most, Barroso would privately advise Sarkozy against triggering a crisis with Turkey now, which would split the EU, when negotiations have more than a decade to run and France has already pledged to hold a referendum before Ankara could join.

REUTERS SS KN1713

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