When Jacques Chirac stormed out of a European Summit, it was to defend the honour of the French language.

But the French President also confirmed suspicions that the prospect of an "ever closer union" of European nations was more distant than ever.

Now two Labour MPs have backed an essay competition for young people on the topic of what's wrong with the European Union.

Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) and David Kidney (Lab Stafford) are supporting the contest, organised by a Euro-sceptic think tank, which offers a £1,000 prize.

M Chirac walked out of the summit, in Brussels last week, when Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, head of the European employers' association and a Frenchman, began talking in English.

He later justified his actions by declaring he would fight to stop English becoming the world's universal language.

In the speech M Chirac refused to hear, M Seilliere called on EU member states to end trade restrictions.

It followed concern that countries such as France, Spain and Poland were undermining the single market through policies of "economic patriotism".

Europe also continues to be divided over the Iraq War, and Tony Blair launched a scathing attack on anti-American feeling in some EU countries in a speech to the Australian Parliament.

The proposed European Constitution has been scrapped after it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands.

Ms Stuart sat on the panel which helped draw up the constitution, but made little secret of her doubts about the whole concept.

Mr Kidney said: "The EU has reached a critical moment in its development. Ever closer union, espoused by founder Jean Monnet, hasn't worked and clearly is not right for the future of a much larger, more diverse and open alliance."

* The essay competition is open to anyone under the age of 25. Details can be found at http://openeurope.org.uk