SALZBURG, Austria, Mar 12 (Reuters) Up to their old tricks, Britain and France sparred verbally about who was more delighted to see whom in Europe.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw opened the hostilities, telling reporters yesterday at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Austria it was no surprise that France was dragging its feet on a pledge of eventual European Union membership for the states of the Western Balkans.
''We are used in the United Kingdom to the fact that the French are always reluctant to take new countries in, because the French voted 'No' against the UK on two occasions.
''Nonetheless, France has come to love the United Kingdom in the EU and I am quite sure it will come to like every other country inside the European Union,'' he said.
When Straw made a similar comment around the ministers' table, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy reached for similarly heavy irony in response.
''I replied that I was not only happy to see how the United Kingdom was in the European Union today, but I was delighted at how very European the United Kingdom was becoming,'' Douste-Blazy told a news conference.
France, he insisted, took EU membership more seriously than ''some'' because it saw Europe a political project, not ''just a market''.
That was why it wanted a serious debate about the conditions and limits of further enlargement when EU leaders meet in June.
Douste-Blazy implicitly rebuked Straw for saying that independence for Kosovo from Serbia was ''almost inevitable''.
Noting that former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was trying to broker an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on behalf of the United Nations, he said it was best ''to respect the negotiator and not prejudge the outcome of the negotiation''.
REUTERS SB KP0905