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Leaders lay out vision for EU's future

FRANCE and Germany yesterday laid out their plans to shape the future of the European Union, saying they would push to keep Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and pressure Irish voters to approve a key treaty.

Buoyed by their conservative parties' victories in last weekend's European parliamentary elections, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they would throw their weight behind Barroso's bid to stay on.

"We will support Mr Barroso's candidacy without ambiguity," Sarkozy told a news conference after talks with Merkel in Paris.

Barroso, a Portuguese conservative who has headed the EU's executive since 2004 and whose mandate expires in November, declared on Tuesday his candidacy for a second five-year term.

His center-right allies' gains in the European election have boosted his bid, and he is the only declared candidate so far.

Both Merkel and Sarkozy said they expected to see a formal policy program.

"We want to talk about the program as well," Merkel said, adding that she hoped a vote on a second mandate could take place after agreement with the European parliament next month.

But Irish voters will be asked to return to the polls later this year to decide whether to change their minds and ratify a treaty that would overhaul the 27-nation bloc's institutions.

Ireland is the only country to have rejected the Lisbon treaty, which is aimed at introducing many of the reforms enshrined in a proposed EU constitution that French and Dutch voters threw out by referendum four years ago.

Without Irish approval, the treaty has been put on ice, delaying what Sarkozy, Merkel and others say are crucial reforms such as creating a permanent presidency instead of the current rotating system and other bids to streamline decision-making.

Sarkozy said his understanding was that a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty would be held in September or October. Unlike last year's campaign in which the "no" camp triumphed, he said he and Merkel would get involved this time.

"Mrs Merkel and I will do everything we can to help the Irish make the choice for Lisbon," Sarkozy said.

"If it is of use, I would even be ready to travel to Ireland to support them," he added.


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