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Europe

Germany, Spain Get Friendly

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero revived a dormant military deal as a sign of flowering relations between the two countries.

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The start of a new friendship: Schröder and Zapatero

Before heading to a restaurant in Zapatero's hometown of Leon for dinner Monday night, the two leaders agreed to continue a arms deal that had been called off for unknown reasons in 2001.

Under the deal, Spain will keep 108 Leopard combat vehicles transferred to the country from Germany in 1995 at discount prices. In exchange, Spain will build missiles for the 2000 Eurofighter jet, submarine torpedoes and helicopter missiles and use German technology. The financial terms of the agreement, which will be formalized in a joint declaration, were not disclosed.

The agreement, in addition to a deal worked out between German and Spanish justice ministers on data-sharing, underscores the new friendliness between the two nations since Zapatero's left of center party ousted conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar seven months ago.

The former prime minister had aligned Spain with the US and Britain in the Iraq war and derided the rest of Europe as being "in decline." He also opposed the EU constitution as chipping away at Spanish influence and independence.

Beginning of something serious

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hat Besuch von Gerhard Schröder und Jacques Chirac

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, center, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, left, and France's President Jacques Chirac at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 13, 2004.

The Leon meeting is the third time the two countries have met for talks in two months. As well as meeting up at last week's EU summit in Brussels, Zapatero and Schröder also conferred in Madrid in mid-September along with French President Jacques Chirac.

"From the first moment on, my government will try, and I believe it will succeed, to establish excellent relations with France, with Germany and with all the other countries in the European Union," Zapatero said shortly after taking up office in March.

In a sign that Madrid is fully behind the EU Constitution, Zapatero announced Saturday that ratification -- Spaniards are scheduled to vote on the issue in a Feb. 20 referendum -- would "make the (European) Union more just, stronger and fraternal."

German-Spanish axis

Spain's support for the Constitution has not gone unnoticed in Berlin. Ahead of Monday's meeting, Schröder praised the Spanish leader: "Without the government of Zapatero, the European Constitution would never have taken the shape it has."

Neue Regierung in Spanien Aznar und Zapatero

Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain's Socialist party after Zapatero won parliamentary approval as Prime Minister Friday April 16, 2004.

But the new-found closeness to Germany and France has not been embraced everywhere in Spain. The conservative opposition People's Party lead by Mariano Rajoy has attacked Zapatero for putting EU interests ahead of Spain.

"What does Spain gain from friendship with Germany," Rajoy has quipped, attacking Zapatero's mantra: "What's good for Europe is good for Spain."

And indeed, many in Spain, especially in the more rural provinces, will be looking to see how the country benefits from a stronger Europe. Zapatero, for his part, will be measured on his ability to maintain Spain's sizeable agricultural subsidies following the expensive EU enlargement.

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