Chirac wants EU Summit with ex-YU states
PARIS, May 31, 2000 -- (Reuters) French President Jacques Chirac proposed on Tuesday a summit between the European Union and the democratic countries of ex-Yugoslavia and reminded Belgrade it could join the club if it also respected the popular will.
In a major speech on French foreign policy, Chirac also urged EU members to forge ahead with a common defence and consider a new rapid reaction force for southern Europe.
Speaking to defence experts and parliamentarians from the Western European Union, he also criticized the United States for planning an anti-missile defence system that he said would rekindle the arms race and undermine Europe's own security.
Speaking about France's priorities for its EU presidency in the second half of this year, Chirac said he wanted to make Europe "a key player in the world" while maintaining the essential role NATO played in Europe's defence.
Aides said the summit could be held later this year, possibly with prominent opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic representing present-day Yugoslavia.
"A summit between the European Union and the countries of ex-Yugoslavia which are most advanced in their democratic evolution would allow us to clarify objectives and revive a stalling process," the president said.
"The aim would be to support recent developments in Croatia, welcome the efforts taken by Macedonia, note progress made in Bosnia, to encourage them to go further...and to remind Yugoslavia the door will be open to it as well as soon as it joins this movement."
Chirac also mentioned Montenegro, the Yugoslav republic whose government is committed to democratic change and has threatened a referendum on independence if Belgrade blocks its reforms.
CHIRAC WANTS MORE DECISIVE BALKAN STRATEGY
Aides said Montenegro might also attend the summit if the right way to describe its participation was found. Montenegro and its bigger partner Serbia make up the Yugoslav federation.
Stressing that Europe's common defence policy should first concern security on its own continent, Chirac said: "We should have a more decisive strategy for the Balkans.
"We should tell these countries more clearly what we expect of them and what we are ready to do to help them."
Recalling its role in the Kosovo crisis last year, Chirac said the EU - which has already pledged to boost its rapid reaction forces to 60,000 troops by 2003 - should create a separate force specially for crises in southern Europe.
EU states should also declare by year's end how many troops, command infrastructure, transport craft and intelligence facilities they were ready to commit to the common effort.
"Defence seems to be an issue that is quite naturally given to reinforced cooperation among a restricted number of states which want to go faster and further than others," he said.
He welcomed recent decisions by EU states to opt for the Airbus A 400M as the future European military transport plane.
EU members could also pool resources to develop the satellite center of the Western European Union, a defence forum due to be incorporated into the EU, into a full European system of satellite intelligence, he added.
The French leader took the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to U.S. plans for a missile defence system which he said would "put into question the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, one of the pillars of strategic stability in the past 30 years".
"As allies and friends, we must convey to the United States our conviction that questioning this treaty would risk damaging efforts for non-proliferation and resume the arms race."