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Schröder and Chirac in Sync Ahead of EU Summit

The German and French leaders are going into a Brussels EU summit this week with common positions on the nomination of the next Commission president and reaching a deal for Europe's first constitution.

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Schröder and Chirac share a laugh at Aachen's cathedral

Meeting in the former seat of emperor Charlemagne, a symbol of European unity, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac on Monday sought to tackle a smorgasbord of European political issues in Aachen -- from selecting a new European Commission president to resolving conflicts over the draft constitution.

They also settled a dispute over industrial policy, saying they would meet regularly along with leading industrialists on both sides of the Rhine River in order to prevent conflicts such as this spring's saber rattling over Siemens' proposed acquisition of units from beleaguered Alstom.

Though the two leaders have an informal face-to-face every six weeks, the meeting was this first since this weekend's European Parliamentary election, which brought heavy losses for Schröder's Social Democratic and Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) parties. But on Monday, both leaders sought to convey optimism and confidence. Painful reforms being undertaken by the governments in Berlin and Paris, they said, need to be pushed forward, even if voters resist them.

Schröder even acknowledged the pain cuts to the social system had brought to average Germans as well as their fears about Germany's role in an enlarged Europe.

Searching for a Commissioner

The leaders expressed unity on the entire palette of EU issues on the table. The countries want to attend the EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels with shared positions on the constitution and the selection of the next European Commission president.

Though neither leader named any potential candidates, German government sources have told major national newspapers that Schröder favors liberal Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. The British have opposed any nomination of Verhofstadt to lead the EU executive because it could further alienate Brussels from Washington. This weekend's parliamentary elections could also make it difficult to push through a liberal candidate, since the center-right European People's Party scored the biggest number of seats in the Strasbourg-based European Parliament.

But on Monday, neither Schröder nor Chirac sought to push the envelope.

"I think the Irish presidency will suggest a candidate with broad support," Schröder said. "France and Germany will also work very closely together to forge a common position on this issue."

Pushing for a constitution deal

Schröder and Chirac said they also remain a united front on the European constitution, which has been stalled since delegates failed to agree on a draft at an EU summit in December following a dispute over the vote weighing of the so-called double-majority principle.

"I can tell you that the principle of the double majority is not being questioned," Schröder said, adding that the member states just needed to find rules for the voting mechanism that could be agreed to by all.

France and Germany are demanding that their countries, the most populous in Europe, will have more votes at their disposal in EU decisions than Poland and Spain, which though large in land mass have smaller populations.

Increasing industrial cooperation

The leaders also sought to smooth over a recent bilateral dispute over the country's respective industrial policies. With the stated goal of creating European sector leaders in core industries, Schröder and Chirac said they would convene regularly for industrial policy summits that would also be attended by leading industrial representatives from France and Germany.

Earlier this spring, a dispute between Berlin and French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy strained bilateral relations. Sarkozy sought to prevent German industrial giant Siemens from buying divisions of the beleaguered French Alstom in a style many in Schröder's cabinet felt reeked of nationalism. On Monday, Schröder described a climate of "misunderstandings" and "absence of political sensitivity."It was the second time in a year that the two countries locked horns over industrial policy. Germany also expressed distaste over Paris's handling of the acquisition of the French-German pharmaceutical giant Aventis by the French firm Sanofi Synthélabo, which Schröder's government also felt was motivated by national interests.

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