France, Germany push for ‘more Europe’ at memorial

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The leaders of France and Germany joined in a symbolic celebration of unity on Sunday (8 July), hailing a relationship that has brought peace to Europe for 50 years. French President François Hollande underlined that the proposed banking union is the “first step to a budgetary union, which will open the way to stability, growth, and tighter ties.”

which will open the way to stability, growth, and tighter ties.”

Taking a pause from more than two years of constant crisis management that has strained Franco-German ties, President Francois Hollande welcomed his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the city of Reims in eastern France.

Hollande said France and Germany must defend the euro with “strict rules and powerful instruments.”

The event replicated an encounter in 1962 between former French president Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, when the two leaders enshrined Franco-German ties in a city that once bore the brunt of shelling in World War One.

But while De Gaulle and Adenauer's encounter sealed a reconciliation after two wars, Sunday's meeting was held against a backdrop of acrimony over how to handle Europe's debt crisis.

"The European Union is going through a crisis – it won't be the first, it won't be the last," Hollande said. "But … it forces us to move toward a new phase of development."

"Mrs Chancellor, I propose to you that we, together, walk through a new door to years that will make the friendship between our two countries even deeper," he added.

Underneath the sense of elation about the past, anxiety over the present ran high as the euro zone – the crowning legacy of Franco-German entente – struggles to restore confidence in the creditworthiness of its peripheral members.

Greece remains a particular source of strain, with fears of a forced exit from the euro surging after Greece's new leaders admitted it was off-track in meeting terms of a bailout plan.

The crisis has exposed differences between France and Germany on how to proceed with the European project. While Merkel wants Europe to form a fiscal union that would give Brussels more oversight over national budgets, France resists any intrusion into budgetary issues.

Hollande, meanwhile, faces Germany's refusal on the idea of mutualising European debt via jointly-issued euro bonds, with German public opinion staunchly opposed to any efforts to make them underwrite European partners' debts.

Last week, as euro zone leaders sat down for talks in Brussels, tensions spilled over as President Francois Hollande declared that he was on the side of Italy and Spain in negotiations – breaking the Franco-German common front.

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