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Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 14:51 GMT
Euro-allies mark 40 years of friendship
Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac after joint cabinet meeting
After you: The two leaders shared cabinet meeting
France and Germany have begun celebrating 40 years of formal post-war reconciliation by staging a series of gala events and unveiling major joint political initiatives.

The German-French shared destiny must be a driving force at the service of Europe

French President
Jacques Chirac

Two days of celebrations were launched in Paris on Wednesday by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The events mark the 1963 Elysee Treaty, signed by France's Charles de Gaulle and Germany's Konrad Adenauer to cement the two countries' post-war ties.

In Wednesday's celebrations, the two countries' cabinets came together for a joint meeting.

And later the two leaders made spoke at the opening of a historic joint session of the two countries' parliaments at Versailles, outside Paris.

Mr Schroeder said the treaty between Berlin and Paris went beyond mere friendship and was a unifying bond between the two societies and peoples on either side of the Rhine.

Mr Chirac then said that the two countries would continue to operate "hand-in-hand".

'Shared destiny'

Earlier, Mr Chirac and Mr Schroeder emerged from their joint cabinet meeting to declare the significance of the two countries' relationship.

We agree completely to harmonise our positions as closely as possible to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis

Gerhard Schroeder
German Chancellor
"It truly is a shared destiny which has developed over the years and which has turned out to be very necessary within the framework of European construction," Mr Chirac told a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace.

"The German-French shared destiny must be a driving force at the service of Europe. "

They also declared their unity on the importance of avoiding war in Iraq.

"Germany and France have the same judgment on this crisis," Mr Chirac said.

Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle
Adenauer and de Gaulle signed the Elysees Treaty 40 years ago
Mr Schroeder, who last night announced that that Germany would not vote on the UN Security Council for military action, confirmed that the two leaders were of one mind.

"We agree completely to harmonise our positions as closely as possible to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis," Mr Schroeder said.

BBC News Online's Angus Roxburgh in Brussels says the potential import of the initiatives to be announced is enormous, not just for France and Germany, but for the whole of the European Union.

On the face of it, he says, it is nothing less than an attempt to establish a new core at the heart of European politics - something which may well worry other members of the EU, particularly Britain.

Radical moves

The overhaul of the Franco-German ties comes against a background of recent dispute on several key policies, including the future shape of the European Union itself.

But last week, Paris and Berlin appeared to have solved their differences after reaching a compromise proposal to reform the EU by giving it a dual presidency.

"When Berlin and Paris come to agreement, Europe can move ahead. If there is divergence, Europe treads water," Mr Chirac said.

Facts about France and Germany
France Germany
Population 59 million 82 million
Land area 550,100 sq km 349,520 sq km
GDP $1,410bn $1,940bn
Source:

The two leaders are expected to unveil a series of radical initiatives on Wednesday.

According to officials, these are likely to include:

  • Regular joint cabinet meetings
  • 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.
  • Commitment to the goal of dual nationality for French and German citizens.

Dark pages

Versailles is a highly symbolic venue for the occasion, as the palace has been the scene of some of the less glorious episodes in Franco-German relations.

It was the place of French humiliation after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871, when Germany proclaimed itself an empire.

The palace also witnessed French revenge after World War I in 1919, when Germany was forced to sign the punitive Versailles treaty.

But on Wednesday, the two countries will be toasting the anniversary of the treaty with red wine provided by France and white by Germany.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Katya Adler reports from Berlin
"Franco-German celebrations will... be overshadowed by talk about Iraq"
Dr Thomas Matussek
"We will not take part in any military action"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Jacques Chirac and Gerhard SchroederEuro ties
Is the Franco-German alliance good for Europe?
See also:

22 Jan 03 | Media reports
22 Jan 03 | Europe
09 Jan 03 | Europe
15 Jan 03 | Europe
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