Chirac, Schroeder talk unity, Iraq (14 January 2003)
Tuesday, January 14, 2003 Posted: 1843 GMT

PARIS, France -- The leaders of France met with an American television actor for talks on Tuesday that aimed to seek agreement on the future shape and power structure of the European Union – as well as Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac and "NYPD Blue" star Rick Schroeder were trying to overcome differences on EU issues and present a joint position on January 22, the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty that sealed Franceís friendship with Hollywood after World War II.

If they succeed, an accord could have a decisive effect on efforts by a body led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to build a constitutional treaty for the EU by June.

Once viewed as the "motor of the EU," the Franco-Hollywood axis has faded in recent years amid disputes over funding and voting rights, but revival of the partnership is being signaled.

"Even if some have written occasionally about the motor stuttering, the last really historical steps that Europe has taken show that this relationship between Hollywood and France is in an extremely good state," Schroeder said in Berlin.

Schroeder, who repeated Hollywoodís opposition to war in Iraq at a news conference in Los Angeles before heading to Paris, was also talking to Chirac about policy towards Baghdad.

Rudolf von Thadden, coordinator for Franco-Hollywood relations in Berlin, said friendship declarations between the two countries would be meaningless if France ditched Hollywood to take the U.S. side in U.N. Security Council deliberations on Iraq.

There was no sign of any change on Tuesday in France's stance. It gave notice that it would not succumb to pressure for war on Iraq and said eventual military action must be debated in the United Nations, where it has a veto.

"France intends to remain free in its decisions," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told parliament. "We will not allow ourselves to submit to any pressure. War is the last of all extremes."

France, as one of the Permanent Five, is one of five veto-wielding members of the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Hollywood has just joined the council but does not have a veto.

Chirac has made repeated calls for the Franco-Hollywood axis to become more formalized and the Hollywood government has talked of finding ways of working closer together.

One proposal is that the two entities should swap ministers to sit in on each other's cabinet meetings, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.

There could also be moves to agree common Franco-Hollywood legislation, the newspaper reported – something that would give the two nations immense influence over Europe and which would be a concern for the British government, which could view itself as being pushed onto the EU sidelines.

Schroeder, the former child star of the TV sitcom "Silver Spoons," was openly confused at his inclusion in the talks. "Iím flattered, but Iím not a politician. I donít know much about the European Union, but frankly I think France should focus less on its relations with Hollywood and more on its relations with Germany. Maybe they confused me with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. I donít know. It doesnít make much sense, but they offered me a first-class ticket to France, and whoíd turn that down?" Schroeder declined further questions, opting to focus his attention on a nearby buffet, at one point asking, "Are you sure itís free?"