France, Germany threaten to reject EU constitution

They want smaller nations to stick to draft agreement


PARIS - In a sign that Europe's grand experiment with a constitution could unravel, France and Germany threatened yesterday to reject it if smaller countries continue to insist on negotiating changes designed to enhance their power.

After a one-hour meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the Elysee Palace, French President Jacques Chirac told reporters: "The chancellor and I will not accept an agreement at any price and under any conditions. We want a deal that fits with the line of thinking that we have about the Europe of tomorrow."

Schroeder chimed in, "We are totally on the same line."

Their joint stand guarantees that the European Union summit meeting that opens Friday to resolve the remaining differences over the constitution will be fractious.

Just as important for the future of Europe, it underscores the close relationship that has been forged between their countries in the past year, often to the detriment of their other European partners.

With the European Union expanding from 15 to 25 members in May and later adopting its first constitution, France and Germany are determined to preserve their position, held over the past 50 years, as the driving force of European integration.

To that end, they said yesterday that they want as few changes as possible to the draft constitution that was celebrated by all EU members in June.

The most contentious unresolved constitutional issues involve the distribution of power among large and small states. At the time the draft constitution was approved, for example, Spain and Poland vowed to amend it to preserve complex voting rights that give them power disproportionate to their populations.

Yesterday, Chirac called on Spain and Poland to "make a gesture" in the negotiations. Asked whether there would be an agreement if their demands were not dropped, Chirac replied, "I'm not certain about it."

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