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Europe

Driving Forward With 10 New Friends

The EU's expansion raised questions about the bloc's established dynamics. But, heavyweights France and Germany are keen to prove that though they may be the "motor of Europe," they won't override the new member states.

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Will "New Europe" help Paris and Berlin navigate?

As the European Union's two largest countries, France and Germany in many ways enjoy a privileged relationship, a fact they have often needed to justify to the bloc's smaller states, both before and after the union expanded by 10 members last May.

"Germany and France are in a difficult position," said Martin Koopmann of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "The smaller countries do not want to feel dominated, but expect Germany and France to keep the European motor rolling."

Informelles Treffen, Schröder Chirac in Berlin

Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac enjoy a mostly happy political relationship

Justifying a happy relationship

There are legitimate reasons behind both feelings. Germany and France's collective size and economic power make the duo a powerful bloc inside the Union. But, members of Germany's Bundestag and France's Assemblee Nationale don't want their nations to be seen as overbearing in an expanded Europe.

"It is my hope that the German-French relationship will not be perceived as a threat to these countries as it may have been in the past," said Peter Altmaier, a Christian Democrat in the Bundestag and member of the German-French Parliamentary Group. "Germany and France are important motors for European unity, but the other countries cannot be excluded from the process."

Keeping an eye on others' interests

The key to maintaining European harmony is keeping other nations' interests in mind, though it's difficult to solidify plans even when general agreement exists, according to Angelica Schwall-Düren, one of the Bundestag's Social Democrats who is also part of the German-French Parliamentary Group.

"Each country is looking out for legitimate national interests, we need to find ways for both sides to profit from the cooperation," she said. "This is also to the benefit of all of Europe."

Franco-German unity on international and European issues has been easy to find.

Deutsch-Französische Konsultationen in Schloss Genshagen bei Berlin

A united front helps France, Germany and the rest of Europe

"It is obvious that cross-border problems are best solved by a shared European policy," said SPD State Secretary for Europe Hans Martin Bury.

Recently the shared policy included a united front in Brussels by successfully forcing changes to the Growth and Stability Pact underpinning the euro and blocking proposed laws meant to liberalize Europe's service sector. Paris and Berlin were also unified in their almost doomed attempt to lift the EU's arms embargo against China against the will of other EU members and the United States.

Interests refocus after geographic shift

After the European Union expanded eastwards in May 2004, France has felt geographically pushed out of the bloc's core at the same time that Germany has shifted into the European epicenter. Many expect the new geography to make the French look toward closer relations with the union's Mediterranean nations, while Germans turn more attention toward Eastern Europe.

Even as France and Germany begin gazing in different directions, neither country has completely forgotten its largest neighbor. The two nations still double as each other's most important trade partner with over 75 billion euros ($96 billion) of exports leaving Germany to France and 52 billion euros worth of products going in the other direction in 2004.

Deutsch Französische Brücke Echhau Altenheim

Visitors walk on the new bridge over the Rhine river between France and Germany near Strasbourg , eastern France, Sunday Oct. 6, 2002. The bridge called Pierre Pflimlin in honor of late European Parliament President, will open to traffic on Thursday.(AP Photo/Christian Lutz)

On a personal level, most people in Germany feel France is their closest friend, a sentiment the French share about Germans, according to Olaf Hahn, head of the Robert Bosch Foundation's German-French Relationship department.

A motor losing steam?

But larger European councils and the sheer division of votes, mean the two friends will lose some influence compared to what they enjoyed before expansion.

"The relative influence of the large EU founders is smaller," the SPD's Schwall-Düren said. "But when Germany and France cooperate and do not lose sight of other EU members we will gain qualitative influence."

A diminishing control over raw vote counts does not alter their crucial role Germany and France play in the EU, agreed Andreas Schockenhoff of the CDU and chairman of the Bundestag's German-French parliamentary group.

"Experience has shown that progress in the EU is not possible without common Franco-German initiatives," he said. "France and Germany's influence in an expanded Europe will be measured by whether or not a common position from both countries leads to European consensus."

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