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Blair, Chirac in talks on EU

Blair and Chirac are also expected to discuss the war in Iraq.
Great Britain
Jacques Chirac
Tony Blair
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PARIS, France -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Paris for talks with French President Jacques Chirac on the proposed European Union constitution.

Blair was to join Chirac at the Elysee presidential palace at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) for a 90-minute question and answer session with French and British students about the future of Europe.

British journalist Alex Taylor was to moderate the debate, covering everything from the European economy to last week's "big bang" expansion of the EU to 25 members, the future EU constitution and Turkey's bid to join the bloc.

The camera-friendly event marks Europe Day. On May 9, 1950, the first move was made toward the formation of the European Union when then French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the creation of an organized Europe.

Blair's visit also comes as France and Britain celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, the agreement that ended the two nations' historic rivalry and opened an unprecedented era of cross-Channel friendship.

Analysts say that while Blair and Chirac will be seeking to show that the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France is alive and well, their private talks could take a more contentious tone, with Blair reportedly set to demand new changes to the draft EU constitution.

The British prime minister has put Chirac in an awkward position after, in a surprise U-turn, he announced he would call a referendum in Britain on the proposed EU constitution.

Blair is expected take a tough stance during the private lunch with Chirac and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, saying amendments are needed to secure a British "yes" vote, British media reported Saturday.

Blair and Chirac are also expected to discuss the war in Iraq, a subject which has divided Paris and London.

While Britain took part in the war on Iraq and has contributed troops to the U.S.-led occupation force there, France opposed last year's invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Chirac's aides said he was likely to reaffirm to Blair that the transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government, planned for June 30, would "mark a true break" -- although Paris seems less and less convinced about that idea.

Following the lunch talks, Blair and Raffarin were scheduled to celebrate Europe Day with an address to 600 youths and finish the day with a live joint interview on French news channel LCI, Raffarin's press office said.

Blair was expected to return to London later Sunday.

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