Big three deny running the EU
By Honor Mahony
Amid strong criticism from several member states, the leaders of the three biggest countries in the EU have strongly denied that they are trying to dictate European policies to the rest of the Union.
Meeting in Berlin on Wednesday (18 February), French president Jacques Chirac, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and UK prime minister Tony Blair were at pains to stress that their meeting was open and that they would be informing the Irish EU Presidency and the European Commission of the results.
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Mr Blair said the meeting was "to the advantage of all Europe". Pointing out that the three countries made up half the population and over half the wealth, Mr Blair said "I don't think we need to be apologetic in any way shape or form about it".
Mr Chirac was similarly forthright. "I do not understand what people are criticising" he said hinting that protests from other countries may simply have had to do with creating a "controversy".
However, despite their protestations about not wanting to run Europe, the three leaders managed to agree a letter in which they call on the Commission to reduce red tape in the EU.
The Brussels executive should "draw up a timetable with clearly defined goals with a view to abolishing regulations and reducing bureaucracy which unduly hamper competitiveness and innovation", says the joint letter.
Similarly, they call for the creation of a Commissioner to concentrate specifically on economic issues.
"We call for the appointment of a Vice-President of the Commission to focus exclusively on economic reform".
This person should have a say in all decisions on EU projects "which impact on the targets of the Lisbon agenda [the EU's goal to become the most dynamic economy in the world by 2010]".
There is also a general call for all member states to "focus on the key issues of innovation as a force to promote enterprise and the reform of product and labour markets".
What was not on the agenda
However, the fears of other countries such as Spain and Italy - both of which strongly criticised the meeting - were to do with what is not on the official agenda and what was to be discussed over dinner later.
This includes the politically very sensitive issues such as how to move forward on the EU Constitution, how to deal with the question of Turkish membership of the EU and who should become the next President of the European Commission.