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Europe

French President: Germany, France Must Open Up To Rest of Europe

On the day of Franco-German summit, France’s president says Berlin and Paris, which are enjoying their closest bond in years, should invite other EU members to join their political consultations.

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French President Jean-Pierre Raffarin (left) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder met Monday evening with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in the French town of Poitiers in one of the regular meetings of the French and German governments, which are intended to strengthen the Franco-German alliance.

But in the run up to the summit, Raffarin made the surprise announcement that he believes other European Union member states, including Britain, should be privy to such meetings. He told a German newspaper that while the Franco-German relationship is important, "it’s not sufficient anymore."

"It’s more important to expand our alliance than to weaken it," Raffarin told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily. "At the same time, our countries would be disquieted by a 25-member Europe where efficient work is impossible. For that reason, the German-French alliance is important, but not sufficient."

Raffarin said the special relationship between France and Germany is making some EU partners nervous. The governments in Berlin and Paris can act as a motor for the EU, but they shouldn’t be directing the traffic.

The strategic and institutional alliances that have been built up in recent years by Paris and Berlin could also be buttressed by the inclusion of Britain, Raffarin told the paper. This would serve the EU particularly well, he added, when it comes to creating a common European defense and foreign policy. He signaled that smaller EU states would also be welcome to join the dialogue.

Increased regional cooperation

The meeting in Raffarin’s hometown of Poitiers is meant to facilitate greater cooperation between Germany’s states, or Länder, and France’s regions in order to strengthen the Franco-German alliance on a more local level.

Raffarin recently introduced constitutional changes to give France’s 22 regions more independence, though he maintains that there is still a great difference between France’s decentralized government and Germany’s federalist system. "We’re not a federation," he told the paper, "a French region could never be compared with a German Bundesland." But that doesn’t rule out Franco-German regional cooperation, he said.

On the agenda at Poitiers are consultations about the economy, competition, research and technology. The idea is to create competency networks between regions with similar industrial make-up or similar research interests. Another project due to be discussed is the creation of a joint French-German history book.

Expanding the club

It’s not clear yet how Germany will react to Raffarin’s recommendations to widen the circle of friendship to include other EU countries. It was only earlier this year that Berlin and Paris reaffirmed their post-war relationship, with celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, the document that sealed the Franco-German friendship following the bitter divisions caused by World War II.

Raffarin’s stated aim, is to have more political engagement in Europe, and reduce euro-skepticism, especially now as the EU prepares to take on 10 new member countries in 2004. Several of those countries have expressed their fears that the larger, more powerful EU states will dominate the political agenda. Germany has consistently been one of the EU states to champion the enlargement project.

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