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Paris will push for EU enlargement 9 janvier 2008

Posted by Acturca in France, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Financial Times (UK), January 8 2008

By Ben Hall in Paris

France is to become a champion of further enlargement of the European Union, according to the French minister for Europe, in a change of approach likely to ease the accession of new members to the bloc.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Jean-Pierre Jouyet said the French -government under Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, had ditched its longstanding scepticism about enlargement and now saw a bigger EU as a stronger force in the world.

Mr Jouyet said there had been a sea change in the government’s approach to Europe since French voters rejected the EU constitution in a referendum in 2005.

« We have crossed a very important Rubicon in the last two years in terms of European integration. We used to believe that a federal Europe was necessary for a more deeply integrated union and that enlargement would counter this and prevent Europe from working effectively. We have now overcome this contradiction.

« The thing that has most struck me since I took up this job seven months ago is precisely the capacity of an EU of 27 members, and more one day, to take decisions. »

Mr Jouyet said further extending the EU’s borders « does not make me worried ». France would push for the eventual integration of the Balkan countries, including Serbia, which he described as a « pole of stability » for the region.

However, there are limits to how far Paris wants the EU to grow. Mr Sarkozy opposes Turkish membership of the EU. And Mr Jouyet admitted that « in France we have not done enough to make the case for enlargement ».

With France due to take over the EU’s rotating six-month presidency in July, Mr Jouyet said his government’s ambitions were that « Europe gets moving once again and that France regains its role ».

France’s priorities are a bigger role for the EU in defence and security, energy and the environment, an EU-wide pact on immigration and integration of foreigners and new regulation of financial markets following the credit squeeze.

Mr Jouyet acknowledged that ratification in the UK parliament of the Lisbon treaty setting new rules for the EU could be difficult. But he warned the UK that it could not expect to negotiate a more advantageous form of membership while keeping its place at the centre of EU decision-making if it failed to ratify the treaty.

Britain had secured all of its demands during the negotiations, including opt-outs in a number of policy areas.

« I think the UK will not see another such opportunity to secure its objectives of taking part in the European adventure, staying at the heart of the EU project and at the same time respecting the peculiarities of British society. »

Nor could Britain retreat to a special relationship with the US: unlike in the late 1990s, both France and Germany now saw themselves as « an enthusiastic ally » of Washington, he said.

Mr Jouyet – who served as deputy chief of staff to Lionel Jospin, the former socialist prime minister, and as chief of staff to Jacques Delors, ex-president of the European Commission – is regarded as one of the most effective ministers recruited by Mr Sarkozy from centre and centre-left parties.

The Europe minister has contained his differences with the president on the question of Turkish membership of the EU, which Mr Jouyet supports in principle.

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