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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 19:39 GMT
Europe's motor set for turbo-charge
Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder
The Franco-German friendship is set for a boost
France and Germany may soon be sending ministers to each other's cabinet meetings as part of a major drive to bring their two countries to an unprecendented level of co-operation.

The minister-swapping proposal is among a number of radical ideas to be discussed in Paris on Tuesday by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, along with their two foreign ministers.

With military action against Iraq apparently closer than ever, the two leaders are expected to move towards joint foreign and defence policies.

The declaration underlines the common destiny between the French and the Germans to the service of Europe

French Government source
The major overhaul of the relationship between Paris and Berlin comes against a background of recent differences on several key policies, including the future shape of the European Union itself.

But this January marks the 40th anniversary of the 1963 Elysee Treaty on Franco-German co-operation.

Both leaders want to use the occasion to breathe new life into the relationship, which has traditionally been at the heart of the EU.

As well as the cabinet meeting "swaps", plans on the table are thought to include:

  • aiming to present the same policies on international bodies, including the United Nations' Security Council
  • promoting plans for the EU to adopt a common security and defence policy
  • moving towards identical French and German laws on key subjects like family and civil law
  • appointing a top official in each country in charge of boosting co-operation between Paris and Berlin.

An official French Government source told BBC News Online the ideas were only proposals at this stage, and a final declaration would be officially unveiled on 22 January, the start of the Elysee Treaty anniversary celebrations.

Straining motor

"The declaration underlines the common destiny between the French and the Germans to the service of Europe," he said.

"It also underlines new projects of co-operation between the two countries and over European questions."

The Franco-German motor was seen for years as the driving force behind EU policy, but has come under some strain in recent years.

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
Tony Blair may feel left out in the cold
Other EU nations - including the UK - believed that the weakening of the Franco-German axis gave them a bigger say in European affairs, and may not welcome a newly-reinvigorated partnership.

A report in the German magazine Der Spiegel said the two leaders would also propose closer ties on European justice, including the creation of a Europe-wide crime register, an EU prosecution service, and EU border police.

And a proposed new European Centre for International Economics would work on policies to co-ordinate economic, finance and trade policy, the magazine said.

Iraq question

Plans to present a united European front on defence and security have been given added impetus over the Iraq issue.

Even France and Germany have adopted publicly different stances - with Mr Schroeder set against German involvement and not committed to voting for war on the UN security council, while France supports the war as long as it receives UN backing.

However, the UK supports a US-led war even without UN backing, exposing the difficulties of reaching a common policy on complex European foreign and defence issues.

See also:

09 Jan 03 | Europe
06 Dec 02 | Europe
24 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Nov 02 | Politics
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