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German, French, British Leaders Agree on European Defense,  EU Constitution Draft

The leaders of Europe's three most powerful countries - Germany, France, and Britain - called on European Union members to adopt a draft EU constitution and for the continent to beef up regional defense.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who hosted the Berlin meeting, said Europe needs to build up its military capabilities. But he emphasized such a move would be designed to complement NATO, not to rival the North Atlantic organization.

He was addressing concerns raised earlier this year, when Mr. Schroeder, along with leaders from France, Belgium and Luxembourg, called for the establishment of a separate European military headquarters in Brussels.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was pointedly not invited to that earlier meeting, at a time when disagreement over going to war in Iraq had sharply divided the Europeans.

In Berlin Saturday, Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, who met together for the first time since the Iraq war, were eager to stress areas of agreement, particularly regarding the future of the European Union. As the group prepares to accept 10 new members next May, the leaders emphasized the need for members to abide by pledges of economic reform and fiscal discipline.

But Mr. Chirac said a key instrument for EU fiscal discipline - a requirement for European countries to keep their budget deficits under three percent - should take into consideration domestic concerns. Both France and Germany have violated the deficit limit, and are doing so again this year.

Special summits among Europe's three heavyweights have taken place before. Smaller EU countries have not always been happy about these separate gatherings. But Mr. Blair said such smaller discussions were necessary for a growing European Union to be successful.

"The important thing to realize is that a Europe at 25 [members] is going to require a way of working, in which we try resolving any difference there might be - delivering on growth; delivering on jobs, delivering on a better environment, delivering on issues dealing with European defense," he said. "And, therefore, it is entirely sensible [that] we have this type of discussion."

The Berlin summit comes just two weeks before European countries begin talks in Rome on the details of a European constitution.