Thursday, April 29, 2004

Prodi worried – Chirac pressured

Sources: Reuters and Financial Times

Prodi says he is worried about Blair's decision to hold a referendum. "It is difficult to give an optimistic interpretation," he told LCI television on Wednesday. "I am pessimistic because this referendum comes at a time when all surveys point against Europe. It gives me some additional worries."

Nevertheless, he was optimistic that EU leaders would manage to seal the constitution at their summit in June. "Yes," Prodi said when asked whether he believed a deal could be reached then. "Because the positions are closer and also, after (the attacks of) Madrid, Europe has suffered a lot from terrorism, and there is a sense of solidarity."

Meanwhile, Chirac is facing a press conference today, where he will be asked whether France will also hold a referendum. The pressure has multiplied after Blair reaffirmed his commitment yesterday to putting Britain at the "centre" of Europe in a front-page column in Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, in which he explained his decision to hold a vote in the context of needing to lance the boil of Euroscepticism at home.

Chirac will be questioned on why he has backed away from a 2002 election pledge to hold a referendum. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, chairman of the centre-right UMP and Chirac's closest political adviser, has said that other countries should think carefully before copying Mr Blair's "rather personal and, perhaps I should add, ultimately British initiative".

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