Schroeder's spokesman, Bela Anda, also underlined on Sunday a new willingness to show flexibility with the EU's future budget and said that "everyone has to move" on the issue.

"We cannot drop the idea of Europe because there are difficulties," Anda said after the meeting at Schroeder's office.

"We must use this development to make very, very clear that Europe is more than short-term voting behaviour - this is about creating lasting peace, bringing about prosperity and freedom."

Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont, added that "one country cannot decide on its own the fate of a treaty negotiated and signed by 25 states. Each member state must be able to express itself in its turn".

Ten countries have ratified the EU constitution, most of them in parliamentary votes - among them Germany.

Inhouse squabbles

But the charter must be approved by all 25 EU members to take effect and, after the French and Dutch rejections, faces difficult referendums in countries including Denmark and Britain.

The Dutch too rejected the EU
constitution like the French

Chirac and Schroeder are close allies, but both have been weakened in recent weeks - Chirac by Sunday's referendum defeat in France, which prompted him to change his prime minister, and Schroeder by a stinging state election loss for his party last month.

The German-French link-up has at times caused tension, irritating smaller EU countries - some of which were irked by the success of Paris and Berlin in watering down the EU pact limiting budget deficits to support the euro.

Money worries

Bonnafont said Saturday's meeting was "politically very important" in fostering unity before a 16-17 June EU summit in Brussels which is to focus on forming an agreement on the EU's funding in the 2007-2013 period.

Schroeder has signalled flexibility on the part of Germany, which along with France is calling for budgets to be limited to 1% of the bloc's gross national income.

Asked whether Germany would press for Britain to give up its 21-year-old budget rebate, Anda that "the chancellor's position is in general is that ... everyone must move - Germany is prepared to do so".

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to visit Schroeder in Berlin on 13 June.