Sarkozy Calls for Hold on EU enlargement

PARIS (AFP)–France’s ruling party chief and presidential hopeful Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called for EU enlargement to be put on hold to give time for its internal institutions to be "renovated."

"Enlargement must be suspended at least as long as the institutions have not been renovated. Europe must have borders. What I am saying does not cover Romania and Bulgaria where the process is too far advanced to be stopped. But all the others," Sarkozy said.

"Not all countries have a vocation to be in Europe," he said.

The minister was talking at the start of consultations between Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and leaders of political parties on the fall-out of last month’s rejection of the European Union constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands.

Any freeze on enlargement would affect Turkey–with which accession talks are supposed to begin later this year under Britain’s EU presidency–and Croatia–which is also an official candidate country.

Romania and Bulgaria are poised for membership in 2007.

In Warsaw–French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy dismissed Sarkozy’s call–saying it was up to the French president to decide the matter.

"There is only one voice–that of the president of the republic" Jacques Chirac said in response to a question at a news conference–after meeting his German and Polish counterparts to discuss the crisis in the EU.

The 51 year-old president of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has in the past put himself at odds with Chirac by speaking out against Turkish membership of the EU. Instead–he favors a "privileged partnership" with Ankara.

The EU’s massive expansion in 2003 to take in 10 new members from central and eastern Europe is widely seen as one of the reasons for the defeat of the constitution in France–where many fear the end of a bloc traditionally dominated by the Franco-German axis.

Though officially the process of further enlargement remains on course despite the current difficulties–many in France believe a moratorium is now necessary to give the EU time to adapt.

Sarkozy also said the concept of a Franco-German alliance leading Europe was outdated.

"We have got to ask questions about the motor that drives Europe…I believe that the six big countries of Europe must get together to become a powerful motor for the new Europe. My feeling is that the Franco-German axis is essential–but the motor will be the six," he said.

In a sign of growing competition for influence among the new member states–Britain’s European Affairs Minister Douglas Alexander was also in Warsaw–alongside the French–German and Polish ministers–to outline British plans for its six-month presidency.

Douste-Blazy once again called on Britain to "assume its responsibilities" by agreeing to negotiate its 4.6 billion euro (5.6 billion dollar) annual rebate as part of the EU’s budgetary package.

"Europe’s spirit–Europe’s ambition–Europe’s vocation is solidarity," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to put the rebate on the table but only if France agrees to cuts in the EU’s mammoth system of farm subsidies.

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