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Franco-German meeting focuses on joint integration

Merkel and Hollande have met to discuss refugees and fighting terrorism. A day after the Dutch voted "no" to closer ties with Kyiv, both leaders said Europe has an interest in ensuring Ukraine's EU trajectory.

Refugees, European integration and efforts to combat terrorism topped the docket at France and Germany's annual meeting on Thursday.

"We can only improve together," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the sidelines of the meeting in the eastern French city of Metz after being received with full military honors by President Francois Hollande. Both leaders brought along top ministers for the discussions.

After meeting with German and French youths to discuss integration, Hollande and Merkel reviewed a report which calls for the formation of a joint Franco-German integration council comprised of politicians, academics, and organizations from both countries.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the German state of Saarland, were set to present the report later on Thursday.

From educational opportunities for refugees to the fight against radicalization, the report details numerous areas and cases in which the countries can learn from one another.

The meeting between the two countries comes amidst staunch differences in national interests connected to the influx of refugees into Europe. After initially opposing a resettlement quota system supported by Merkel, Hollande eventually committed to accepting 30,000 refugees over the course of two years.

After the recent Panama Papers leak, the two countries' finance ministers, Wolfgang Schäuble and Michel Sapin, are also set to address the international crackdown on tax evasion and tax fraud.

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'Merkel, Hollande need to march together'

Dutch vote on EU-Ukraine association agreement

A day after the Netherlands opposed an EU association agreement with Ukraine Euroskeptic delightin a nonbinding referendum, Merkel said she would wait to see how the Dutch government responded.

"The Netherlands will find an answer," Merkel said alongside Hollande at a news conference, adding she had spoken with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, on Wednesday evening. "We should wait for this."

On Wednesday, Dutch voters formally opposed closer economic and political ties with Ukraine. The vote was widely viewed as a referendum on the EU.

Merkel said Europe has an interest in ensuring Ukraine follows a path towards the EU and that like many problems the 28-member bloc could find a solution despite the no-vote.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who accompanied Merkel to France, said he was disappointed by the referendum results but noted the low voter turn out, only 34 percent.

"Whether that gives the (Dutch) government some room to maneuver, that I cannot currently assess at this point," Steinmeier said.

Hollande said France and Germany would still try to apply the association agreement.

"As far as France and Germany, we will continue to support Ukraine and apply the association agreement in our respective countries," he said.

rs,cw/jil (AFP, dpa)

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