September 25, 2005 9:18 pm

Sarkozy calls for 'G6' to lead EU

France's governing UMP party has called for the six biggest countries in the European Union jointly to lead the 25-member organisation, to overcome the institutional inertia caused by the rejection of Europe's constitutional treaty.

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the UMP party and a strong contender for the French presidency in 2007, said the French-German "couple" could no longer direct the EU in the way it had done for the previous 50 years. "We must open the French-German couple to four other big European countries, which among them represent 75 per cent of Europe's population," he said. "This group of six must become the motor of the new Europe."

Mr Sarkozy said this G6 - France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland - should make collective proposals to other EU leaders. The other members could accept or reject these proposals, but they should not be able to prevent the G6 from pursuing them.

"If we are able to develop this method we would answer - without institutional reform - two major defects of Europe as it exists today: Europe would act, and she would act under the impulse of responsible politicians, not anonymous bureaucrats," he said in a speech on Saturday, concluding a party conference on Europe.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, foreign minister, also supported the creation of a vanguard group - or a "hard core" - to take the lead on economic and monetary policy, defence, foreign policy, internal security and justice. "It is indispensable that those states that want to do so can progress together and more quickly, while leaving open the possibility for other members to join them later," he said. "This common project, this 'house within a house', will be more integrated, more demanding, more concentrated."

Describing himself as the leader of France's most pro-European party, Mr Sarkozy proposed several initiatives to haul the EU out of the "grave crisis" caused by the rejection of the constitutional treaty by French and Dutch voters. He said the EU's ambition should be to exploit the benefits of globalisation, while countering its injustices. "Europe must invent humane globalisation," he said.

He said the Union should promote research at an EU level, helping to found European universities. It should also co-ordinate policy to address such issues as energy, health, immigration, and ageing populations.

Mr Sarkozy called for the revival of the "community preference" ensuring that "Europe bought European" goods - especially from its small companies. Criticising Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, for failing adequately to defend Europe's interests, Mr Sarkozy said the EU should make more use of the World Trade Organisation's anti-dumping clauses.

Mr Sarkozy defended the Common Agricultural Policy and attacked the British budget rebate as an anomaly that had to be suppressed. He also repeated his opposition to Turkey's ambitions to join the EU, a goal supported by President Jacques Chirac and the UK.

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