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Europe

Schröder To Attend D-Day Celebrations

Following an invitation from Paris, Chancellor Schröder will become the first German leader to attend the 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy. The move signals growing ties between Paris and Berlin.

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Good neighbors -- German Chancellor Schröder, left, with French President Chirac.

Marking a historic turn of events, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has accepted an invitation to attend a commemoration ceremony on the anniversary of the landing of Allied troops in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Sixty years after American, British and Canadian soldiers set foot on the French beaches and began their campaign to liberate Europe from Nazi forces, Schröder will become the first German leader to participate in the celebrations.

A spokesman for the German government confirmed to journalists on Thursday that the chancellor had indeed accepted an invitation from Paris to attend the ceremony in France. "Mr. Chirac invited the chancellor before Christmas," he said. "He’s (Schröder) very pleased to have been invited."

The French government also confirmed the invitation. A spokeswoman said all invitations had already been sent out. The guests include representatives from around 15 nations, who attended key 50th anniversary celebrations in 1994 and those countries who contributed troops to the D-Day landings.

Message of reconciliation

Schröder’s attendance at the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings is expected to drive home a potent message of reconciliation between the two nations, one that has been made clearer in the past year as France and Germany teamed up to oppose the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The inclusion of Schröder in this year’s list is especially noteworthy after his predecessor Helmut Kohl was pointedly left out of the high-profile invitation list for the 50th anniversary. At the time ties between the two neighbors were at a low and French President Francois Mitterand responded to the offended Kohl by taking him to a Franco-German youth festival and invited German soldiers to participate in France’s Bastille Day parade along the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Growing Franco-German ties

Apart from the historic symbolism surrounding the anniversary, the event in June is a reaffirmation of strengthening ties between Paris and Berlin in the last year.

After enduring several spats -- among others over President Chirac’s support for conservative Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber in the German general election of 2002 -- the Franco-German motor roared back into life last year. In addition to their shared position on the Iraq war and reconstruction efforts, the friendship was boosted by frequent Franco-German summits, where the two sides agreed to a raft of joint initiatives including regular joint cabinet meetings.

In recent months, the two European heavyweights have also begun cooperating closely on EU affairs. Not only are they the two biggest economies in Europe, but they back each other up when it comes to violating the euro zone’s Stability Pact. They also align themselves closely on the issue of the EU constitution, which failed to be signed due to a controversy over voting methods, and have jointly called for more investment in Europe’s infrastructure.

In fact, the two neighbors reputedly work so well together that it was no problem for Chirac, in a historic first for the European Union, to represent the German leader at an EU summit in October, when Schröder was forced to stay in Berlin for an important vote on social reforms.

To smaller EU members, those who see Europe’s future endangered by the dominance of France and Germany and at the same time foresee a "two-speed Europe" falling back on its founding members, the Berlin-Paris axis is not necessarily an entirely welcome turning-around of history.

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