Hollande, Merkel fete 50 years of French-German ties

BERLIN (AFP) - Germany and France will seek to paper over tensions from the euro crisis which has propelled Berlin into Europe's driving seat when their leaders meet on Monday to mark 50 years since a landmark treaty forged closer ties.

French President Francois Hollande arrived in a snow-bedecked Berlin, officials travelling with him said, and was first due to hold a brief meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel before the two launch into events to fete the Elysee Treaty.

Their first engagement on a packed pomp-filled agenda, which continues through Tuesday, was to respond to questions by about 200 French and German youth in a live televised debate.

Afterwards over the dinner, the two leaders are likely to discuss the world hotspots including the current crisis in Mali.

In signing the landmark treaty on Jan 22, 1963, then French president Charles de Gaulle and West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer sealed a new era of reconciliation between the former foes which has since driven European unity.

Dr Merkel acknowledged differences with France in her weekly podcast Saturday but said she felt "a very great closeness" with Germany's neighbour, adding: "And when we have come together, then mostly a good new solution has come out of it."

After Dr Merkel spearheaded much of Europe's response to the three-year-long debt crisis with Hollande's conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, earning them the nickname 'Merkozy', her rapport with the Socialist Hollande is noticeably cooler.

The pair have differed on the best approach for stemming the euro zone turbulence - with Mr Hollande pushing for fresh spending to bolster growth, while Dr Merkel's pro-austerity mantra made her a detested figure in struggling EU member states but has gone down well among German voters.

Even if the two have pulled off compromises, Germany, which has fared far better in the crisis than many of its partners, has expressed hopes the French economy, which the French central bank estimates fell into a mild recession at the end of 2012, will return to growth.

The pair now appear to have agreed on Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem to replace Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the Eurogroup after weeks of horse-trading.

Europe's driving force has limited cooperation on military matters too, as the Mali conflict and Germany's non-intervention in Libya in 2011 showed, and they have traditionally different approaches to intervention shaped by their respective histories.

"In foreign policy Germany no longer wants to be a big power. How could we be, after Hitler and Auschwitz?"

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Monday's Handelsblatt business daily.

"We are not refusing to take responsibility but we have a different relationship with military power," he said.

While French troops are fighting alongside Malian forces against Islamist militants in the West African state, Germany has pledged two military transport planes and one million euros (S$1.63 million) in humanitarian aid.

Former EU Commission chief Jacques Delors told news weekly Der Spiegel that the symbolic value of the accord was "much more important" than its concrete implementation and that the regular meetings between their leaders and officials were of "inestimable" value.

"Both sides must speak to each other, also in difficult times," he said.

Ministers from both governments as well as lawmakers from both countries are due to hold joint sessions on Tuesday.