Chirac, Blair have first face-to-face meeting since EU summit collapse

French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at odds over EU spending, were holding their first meeting on Friday since the dramatic collapse in June of a summit of European leaders.

British and French officials said the contentious EU budget question was not on the agenda for the meeting, which will focus instead on an informal summit of EU leaders Blair will host this month in London.

Blair and Chirac last met in July at a Group of Eight summit overshadowed by bombings in London that killed 52 subway and bus passengers.

While they had discussions on the sidelines then, Chirac's office said the last time the two leaders had sit-down talks was in Brussels in June, when the EU summit collapsed amid disagreements over the budget.

Blair is pushing for reform of EU spending, and has refused to give up the lucrative but hotly contested budget rebate accorded to Britain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Chirac has defended EU farming subisidies that prop up French farmers but which Blair argues would be better spent on education, science and technology to better equip the 25-nation bloc against competition from rising powers like China and India.

The Oct. 27-28 informal summit that Blair is hosting at Hampton Court in southwest London will be an important test of his EU presidency. The bloc has struggled for direction since French and Dutch voters rejected a proposed EU constitution earlier this year.

The French vote on May 29 was a humiliation for Chirac, prompting him to shake up his government and appoint a new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, whom Blair will also meet Friday, reports the AP.


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