Chirac, Schroeder meet in Paris on EU constitution, economic policy

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were meeting in Paris on Tuesday for talks on economic cooperation and the European Union constitution as polls overwhelmingly show the French could reject the treaty.

Chirac and Schroeder were to lead a joint French-German Cabinet meeting likely to be dominated with talk of the French referendum campaign.

Schroeder was expected to cast his voice behind Chirac, who has been struggling to reduce momentum in the French "no" camp in the run-up to the May 29 vote.

EU officials have expressed concerns that the French - a crucial founding member - could reject the charter.

More than a dozen recent polls have shown a narrow majority of French voters plan vote against the constitution, which is designed to streamline decision-making in the 25-member bloc.

However, a new poll indicates the gap may be shrinking between the 'yes' and 'no' camps, with 52 percent of respondents saying they plan to vote to reject the charter.

The survey published Tuesday in Le Figaro newspaper showed 48 percent of respondents support the constitution - three percentage points more than in a similar poll a week earlier.

The telephone survey of 954 registered voters was conducted April 22-23 by the Ipsos agency for the newspaper and Europe-1 radio. No margin of error was provided.

After a joint news conference, Chirac and Schroeder were to speak at the Sorbonne University to mark the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German chamber of commerce and industry. They were to outline economic cooperation goals for the EU, the president's office said.

A joint working group on economic cooperation was to present ministers with four new projects in the information technology and biomedical sectors, designed to help French and German firms compete better with rivals in Japan and the United States, officials said.

Associated Press

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