Germany moves to end 'turbulence' in ties with France

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The Independent Online
France and Germany agreed yesterday to co-ordinate their efforts to open the European Union to East European countries after weeks of public strain in their normally close alliance.

Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, visited Paris for routine talks after summoning the French ambassador to Bonn for a dressing-down last week because the envoy had reportedly questioned German intentions in private remarks.

Francois Scheer, the ambassador, was quoted as telling German journalists in a background briefing that France feared Germany would turn its back on West Europe and concentrate on East Europe when it moved the government from Bonn to Berlin in a few years.

Although Mr Scheer denied making the remarks and leaders of both countries have insisted that their relations are as strong as ever, officials from other European Union countries have said such fears are deep- seated among French politicians.

The Scheer episode came after several weeks of German anger because Chancellor Helmut Kohl had not been invited to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings on 6 June.

On Wednesday, that issue seemed to be resolved when France said the two countries would hold a 'youth and reconciliation' meeting in Heidelberg on 8 June. Similarly, Britain said Germany would be invited to ceremonies next year marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

In Paris yesterday, Mr Kinkel announced that Germany, which takes over the EU presidency on 1 July for six months and France, which will hold the job for the first half of next year, would co-ordinate policies. He said the two countries, 'after a little turbulence' in their ties, would work together to bring the former Communist states of East Europe closer to the EU.

Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, said: 'As in any couple, there are moments that are less euphoric, less calm. But the basic relationship is not called into question.'

Earlier, diplomatic sources said the matter of priorities in the 12 months beginning 1 July had caused some disagreement between Paris and Bonn. France, they said, felt that Germany did not take seriously enough the threat to Europe posed by Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa.

When France had suggested the EU help the Algerian government combat fundamentalism, 'Germany replied that Algeria was a neighbour but that East Europe was family,' one source said.

France urged its nationals to leave Algeria this week after two Frenchmen, a father and son, were killed in Algiers on Tuesday. Thirty-two foreigners, including eight French citizens, have been killed since the autumn.

The French fear is that unrest in Algeria - some officials say privately that they expect Algeria to be plunged into full-scale civil war within six months - will send a flood of refugees to Europe, mainly to France.

On Franco-German ties, EU diplomats in France said they were sure the two countries would do all they could to keep their partnership intact since they both believed it was the driving force of Europe.

'But Francois Scheer is a very experienced operator and, if he said what he is reported to have said, then he had his reasons,' one diplomat said. 'The French find they often have to play second fiddle after years in which they had the political upper hand while Germany still had guilt feelings about the Second World War. That's all changed.'

'There's not a sea change in the nature of the relationship,' said another source. 'It will still be a serious policy to get on well together.'

The French worry was, this source said, that Germany could become the dominant influence 'to the edge of Russia or the edge of Ukraine' to the disadvantage of other EU states.