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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 18:25 GMT
Merkel builds relations with UK
UK PM Tony Blair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in London
Mrs Merkel may forge closer ties with the UK than her predecessor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany can maintain close ties with both France and Britain, without undermining either relationship.

Mrs Merkel, who took office on Tuesday, was speaking at a press conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.

She avoided taking sides when asked who she supported in the EU budget row that has pitted France against the UK.

Mr Blair said Britain would "use its best endeavours to get a budget deal at the December council" of the EU.

Mrs Merkel said the new German government "has a great interest in maintaining good friendly relations with France, but not just with France - but particularly with the UK".

Her first foreign trip was to France on Wednesday. She has made a German economic revival her priority.

She is Germany's first woman chancellor, heading a "grand coalition" between her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), their Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

On Wednesday she stressed the need for a more constructive approach to solving Europe's common problems.

Budget wrangling

Her London talks included discussion of the EU budget row.

Jacques Chirac greets Angela Merkel

But she refused to be drawn on Germany's position, stressing simply that "I want to have success".

"The situation of each country has to be taken into account. If anyone forgets one country with its interests, we will not have any success."

The UK, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, is eager to reach a deal over the budget by the end of the year.

Earlier attempts to reach agreement have ended in stalemate, with the UK refusing to give up its sizeable EU rebate and France rejecting calls to cut EU farm subsidies and overhaul the Common Agricultural Policy.

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Commenting on his talks with Mrs Merkel, Prime Minister Blair said "we discussed the full range of issues as you might expect to do with Europe".

Referring to the EU budget, he said "obviously it's going to be difficult and tough and there's no point in going into details today - but we will do our level best to try and reach an agreement".

He said "it is important for Britain and France to work closer together, and of course our relationship with Germany is immensely important".

Polish pressure

At a separate meeting with Mr Blair in London on Thursday the Polish Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, stressed the need for a budget deal.

He said the 10 new EU members were joining forces in a plea to break the stalemate over the 2007-2013 budget.

He told reporters he had spoken to Mr Blair about the need for "solidarity" to overcome "selfishness".

Mrs Merkel has said the UK rebate is part of a whole set of problems affecting the EU's work.

She has voiced her support for liberal economic reforms in Europe, of the kind championed by Mr Blair but opposed by her predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

She has called for closer ties with the US, but stressed she would stick to Germany's policy of keeping troops out of Iraq.


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