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EU's "wise man" wants to reduce dependence on U.S.

BRUSSELS, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The man charged with charting a possible future for the European Union said the 27-country bloc needs an ideological shake-up and must reduce its dependence on the rest of the world, notably the United States. Former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez was appointed by EU leaders in December to head a “reflection group” to look at the future of Europe in 2020-2030, focusing mostly on the economic challenges of globalisation.

In an interview with the Financial Times published on Tuesday, Gonzalez said he wants his report, due in 2010, to be “a wake-up call” for Europe.

“We are losing influence in economic and technological terms, and as a result, we are becoming less relevant to our citizens -- by losing competitiveness and value,” he said.

The EU needs to bridge a gap with the United States in terms of technology, the former socialist leader said.

“I began to worry about this during the conflict in the Balkans, when I discovered that 95 percent of the intelligence Europe received ... came from U.S. satellites,” Gonzalez said.

“This overdependence on U.S. technology was alarming. It deepened my perception that Europe had become distracted and did not realise the importance of the technological revolution that was under way,” Gonzalez said.

“We stifle innovation. That is why Europe has failed to produce a Bill Gates. It is a cultural problem.”

Europe also needed to end its “worrying” energy dependence on unstable foreign states, he said, adding many countries may be forced to “reconsider” their policies on nuclear power.

Many EU countries questioned the need for a panel of “wise persons” when France floated the idea last year.

Gonzalez said he agreed with some critics who say the job should have gone to elected members of the European Parliament.

Former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Jorma Ollila, chairman of mobile phone giant Nokia NOK1V.HE, were named as the two vice-chairs of the panel in December.

Gonzalez said he hopes to name the majority of the remaining six members of the panel by September.

On the controversial issue of whether Turkey should join the EU -- which some leaders say is not part of the panel’s mandate -- Gonzalez limited himself to saying the relevant question was not “what is Europe” but rather which citizens are willing to share a common project, the newspaper quoted him as saying. (Reporting by Darren Ennis; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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