EU leaders unite for war memorial before Juncker battle
By Francois Lenoir and Luke Baker
YPRES Belgium/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders gathered in Belgium for a solemn ceremony on Thursday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One, determined to display unity despite deep disagreement over who should head their most influential institution.
At Mending Gate, a memorial to 50,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the battle of Yore's, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to stand alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and other leaders to honor the fallen of what became known as the Great War.
Merkel, Cameron and Hollande were expected to join hands as a trumpeter sounds the Last Post, in a symbol of reconciliation among former enemy nations that barely masks Cameron's isolation among his fellow leaders.
The haunting music has been played daily at the Gate since 1928, with the exception of the World War Two years of Nazi German occupation.
"This shows us what good times we are living in today thanks to the existence of the European Union and how we have learned the lessons of history," Merkel told reporters on arrival in nearby Kortrijk for a prior meeting of center-right leaders.
EU officials were at pains to ensure the ceremony was not overtaken by a fierce political battle over the leadership of the European Commission, a decision due to be taken when the summit moves to Brussels on Friday.
But the smouldering row over whether former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker should lead the EU's executive for the next five years hung over Thursday's events, even if it was kept off the dinner table at which leaders were due to debate a 'strategic agenda' for the 28-nation bloc.
Merkel voiced determination to go ahead with the nomination once leaders have agreed on policy priorities to promote growth, consolidate budgets, create jobs and fight youth unemployment. Continued...