Merkel trip to set tone with France, Britain

22nd November 2005, Comments 0 comments

BERLIN, Nov 22 (AFP) - New German chancellor Angela Merkel will Wednesday take her first steps on the international stage as leader of Europe's biggest economy when she heads to Paris and London, Berlin's biggest EU partners.

BERLIN, Nov 22 (AFP) - New German chancellor Angela Merkel will Wednesday take her first steps on the international stage as leader of Europe's biggest economy when she heads to Paris and London, Berlin's biggest EU partners.

Her first foreign outing as chancellor will be to Paris, a clear sign that Merkel intends to maintain the Franco-German motor traditionally at the heart of the European Union.

Wednesday's trip comes a day after she was voted into office by the German parliament as head of a rather unwieldy coalition uniting Germany's main left and right parties.

From Paris, Merkel will travel to Brussels and then on Thursday to London.

As well as acquainting herself with president Jacques Chirac of France and British prime minister Tony Blair, both experienced national leaders, she is preparing the ground for her first EU summit as chancellor, on December 15-16 in Brussels.

That summit will focus on efforts to achieve a long-awaited breakthrough on the bloc's 2007-13 budget.

Over lunch at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday, Merkel and Chirac are likely to reaffirm the strength of the Franco-German partnership.

But in what some observers see as a significant shift, she will fit in a trip to Brussels the same day for meetings with EU leaders, a nod to the need for greater consensus on the pressing issues facing the bloc.

In London, too, she is expected to hold out the promise of better relations with Britain than were the case under her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder.

Ulrike Guerot, a Berlin-based analyst from the German Marshall Fund, said Merkel's hands were tied on the budget because the agreement underpinning her coalition government says Germany stick to the deal struck in 2002 on the EU agriculture policy.

Britain, meanwhile, insists any change to its budget contribution has to go hand-in-hand with a reform of the agricultural policy.

British finance minister Gordon Brown warned France in an interview with Tuesday's Financial Times newspaper that reform of the EU farm subsidies was essential in order to seal a budget deal and help the world's poor.

"Merkel's margin for manoeuvre as a mediator between London and Paris is restricted because Germany has promised France it will adhere to the agreed position," Guerot told AFP.

Analysts in Britain say Blair had been hoping for a clearer Merkel victory in Germany's general election as her economic reform proposals were very much in line with British government thinking.

London had also hoped she would be a key ally in its attempts to change the political dynamic in Europe.

Schroeder and Blair tried something similar in the late 1990s, dubbing it the 'third way,' but it petered out, and their relationship deteriorated over the German leader's strong opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, which London supported.

Merkel has signalled she wants to see Germany's transatlantic relationship fully restored.

"If you patch up relations with Washington, which is Merkel's aim, you patch up relations with London. It goes together," Guerot said.

Merkel's trip to Brussels on Wednesday evening will involve meetings with European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and Josep Borrell, head of the European Parliament, as well as NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

The woman who grew up in former communist East Germany has said the bloc's big guns must listen more attentively to the smaller members, especially some of the eastern countries which she feels have been largely ignored since they joined last year.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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