Germany, France paper over euro cracks in show of unity

Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:07pm EST
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By Noah Barkin

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts French President Francois Hollande and his government on Tuesday for a celebration marking half a century of post-war partnership, even as their countries struggle to forge a common vision for crisis-hit Europe.

Fifty years after Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle signed the Elysee Treaty that sealed a reconciliation between the former adversaries, Berlin and Paris are determined to put on a rousing display of unity.

A meeting of both cabinets will be followed by a joint session of parliament in the Reichstag building where Adolf Hitler gave some of his most famous World War Two speeches. In the evening, the German and French leaders will attend a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Merkel and Hollande, born less than a month apart in the summer of 1954, have overcome an awkward start to their relationship, complicated by her vocal support for the French president's rival in the 2012 election and his condemnation of the German chancellor's austerity policies during the campaign.

After six months of earnest handshakes, the two now kiss each other on the cheek when they meet. In recent months, Berlin and Paris have forged complex compromises on European bank supervision and reform of a politically-sensitive shareholder pact governing EADS, the parent of planemaker Airbus.

But on perhaps the biggest policy issue hanging over Europe as it struggles to emerge from its three-year old debt crisis - the drive for closer economic integration - the Franco-German motor is barely revving.

And at a time when Europe can ill afford it, both leaders are turning there attention elsewhere - Merkel to her re-election bid and Hollande to France's ailing economy and risky military intervention in Mali.

"The Franco-German conflict which has been looming for months is over closer integration," said Daniela Schwarzer, an expert on Franco-German relations at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.   Continued...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and French President Francois Hollande salute to each other during a private dinner in a Berlin restaurant at the eve of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jesco Denzel/Bundespresseamt/Pool