Page last updated at 23:08 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Leaders build Franco-German ties

By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News, Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris (28 October 2009)
Mr Sarkozy would like solid commitments from Germany

This year will be the first time a German chancellor has ever participated in the commemoration of Armistice Day, when Germany was defeated in France.

Some of Angela Merkel's predecessors have commemorated World War I on French soil before - in 1984, Chancellor Helmut Kohl took the hand of President Francois Mitterrand at a Verdun grave site.

And in 1998, then President Jacques Chirac asked Gerhard Schroeder to come to Paris for the Armistice Day events, but the German chancellor controversially turned the invitation down, insisting while it was right to remember past events it was "a mistake to live in the past".

But this new Franco-German gesture of "togetherness" is more than just a simple one of remembrance.

The official announcement of Mrs Merkel's plans were made two weeks ago at a joint statement at the Elysee Palace.

It was Mrs Merkel's first foreign trip after being sworn in as chancellor for a second term and the aim was to send a strong message about the depth of Franco-German ties.

The German leader spoke of joint plans to integrate the young generation into the EU claiming "France and Germany have an exemplary role to play".

She also spoke of her government's desire to focus on education, economic growth and research, saying it was "more useful than ever for France and Germany to intensify their cooperation and common action".

New agenda

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is particularly keen to reinvigorate the Franco-German axis.

Oil refinery in Schwedt, Germany
Germany may be less keen on pursuing a European energy policy

Just back from the celebrations marking the fall of the Berlin wall, the French leader would now like to see some solid co-operation commitments.

These include finding consensus on economic policy, greater tax co-ordination, backing for a European plan for energy independence and a new industrial strategy to promote European champions.

French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche is busy with plans to prepare a new "Franco-German agenda for Europe" which he claims will be a central relationship in the new European configuration.

But despite a warm personal relationship, Germany is slightly colder than France when it comes to making concrete signs of unity.

On the question of energy, for example, Germany enjoys renewed relations with Russia which means it may not wish to spend too much effort on pursuing a European plan for energy independence.

For now, it is Mr Sarkozy who is counting most heavily on the Franco-German relationship

And economic harmony will also be difficult to achieve - Mrs Merkel is keen to balance the books and spend thriftily, while Mr Sarkozy is already on a collision course with the European Union which is ordering France to rein in its spending.

Germany is also much keener on a liberal economy while France is more protectionist. And Germany is not quite so pro-EU as once it was.

At the end of September this year, after the G20 at Pittsburgh, Mrs Merkel apparently joked she was "Sarkozyfying" her ideas while Mr Sarkozy is said to have retorted that he was "Merkelizing" his.

But for now, it is Mr Sarkozy who is counting most heavily on the Franco-German relationship because, if Britain elects a more Eurosceptic Conservative government next year, France knows it will need a strong friend in Europe.

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