Battle lines drawn in Europe
NICOLAS Sarkozy called for a new treaty to "re-found" the European Union last night but rejected any drive towards a "supranational" United States of Europe.
The French President's speech, which came before one-on-one talks with David Cameron in Paris today, appeared to reject German demands that the future of the euro should be bound up with more centralised control of national budgets, policed by Brussels.
It also added public weight to the suggestion that Mr Sarkozy and Mr Cameron will join forces today in an attempt to limit the impact of Chancellor Angela Merkel's demands for a new European Union treaty.
The French and British leaders are expected to join a growing rebellion by other EU members against Ms Merkel's call for a new treaty forcing eurozone countries to balance their books.
While Ms Merkel is due in Paris on Monday to discuss a Franco-German plan to solve the crisis, Mr Sarkozy used his speech in Toulon to warn against "a march towards more supranationality." In an address to 5,000 supporters, he said a re-founded Europe should be "more democratic" and based on "inter-governmental" deals in which politicians, not technocrats, made decisions.
The speech was pre-sold as an important new response by Mr Sarkozy to the debt crisis threatening the euro. He chose to speak in the same conference hall in which, according to Sarkozy mythology, he launched a co-ordinated global reaction to the US sub-prime mortgage crisis in September 2008.
In the event, the President seemed to be just as concerned with reassuring voters in next spring's presidential election that French sovereignty, and the French nation, would survive plans to solve the euro crisis by moving towards a stronger "core" of EU nations.
In Britain, any new EU treaty would prove difficult for Mr Cameron to sell to his Conservative Party colleagues.
At a summit in Brussels next week, he will warn fellow EU leaders that he would demand concessions for Britain in order to smooth the passage of a treaty through Parliament. These could include diluting the EU's "maximum 48-hour working week" directive in Britain. However, the Prime Minister is trying to lower expectations among Tory MPs that he will be able to grab back powers over employment law at this stage.
Similarly, Britain and France have downgraded today's meeting from a summit involving several ministers from each country so the two leaders can focus their full attention on the eurozone. Although they are unlikely to try to block Ms Merkel if she insists on a new treaty, full agreement on one could be delayed until next year in the hope that the immediate euro crisis can finally be resolved.