Prague, 3 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - In Prague today, French President Jacques Chirac spelled out his vision of a united, whole Europe of East and West.
Chirac called his vision "a Great-Power Europe." He said that he was confident it would come into being in the near future with the imminent expansion of NATO to the East and a later -- but, as Chirac saw it, not much later -- enlargement of the European Union to the Central and Eastern parts of the continent.
In a speech this morning to a joint session of the Czech Parliament, Chirac said that the Europe he envisioned "must be one of the great economic, political and cultural poles of the world of tomorrow." Europe, he continued, "now has a tremendous opportunity (because) it will soon be gathered together as one."
Chirac said that the EU, which today numbers 15 members, will eventually include 27 states with a total population of 450 million. That was an apparent reference to the EU candidacies of Cyprus and 10 Central and East European states as well as to Turkey, whose rapid entry into the Union France supports. Other EU members, particularly Germany, do not now support Turkey's candidacy.
Chirac also said that by integrating all 27 nations into NATO, Europe would have the best possible guarantee of its future security.
At a press conference later, Chirac told reporters that he was counting on the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joining the EU by the year 2000, which he called "a sensible deadline." Yesterday, he also cited 1999 as a likely date for the integration into the 16-nation Atlantic Alliance of those three countries -- and of Romania, whose NATO candidacy France has vigorously supported.
This afternoon, Chirac is concluding a 24-hour official visit to the Czech Republic. He is due to return to Paris this evening.
Over the past several months, Chirac has made similar official visits to Poland, Hungary and Romania.