by RAY FLEMING
IN an interview in the FInancial Times this week the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, set out her priorities for the six months during which Germany will hold the presidency of the European Union. By a coincidence, Germany is also host of the G8 meeting of industrialised nations later this year and is therefore in a particularly strong position to set and influence the international agenda in 2007.

Ms Merkel said that her top external priorities are to repair the relationship between the EU and the United States, and to give special attention to its relations with Russia. She is right to think that these two tasks are urgent; it is not a good advertisement for the foreign policy of the EU that it is at odds with both these countries. Within the EU Ms Merkel intends to explore the prospects for a revival of the constitution which was stalled in 2005 by the negative votes in France and Holland. She is apparently persuaded that a constitution of some kind is needed for an EU of 27 countries and she points out that it has already been ratified by 18 of those member states; she also knows that a Britain led by Gordon Brown or David Cameron would not be in favour of ratification.

Ms Merkel's task will be complicated by uncertainty over the timing of Mr Blair's departure and of Mr Chirac's awaited decision on whether to contest the French Presidency again in May.

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