Kohl and Balladur admit differences

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The Independent Online
BONN - Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday acknowledged 'nuances' of differences between France and Germany, after three hours of talks with the French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur. But both sides declared themselves well pleased with the meeting, writes Steve Crawshaw.

It was Mr Balladur's first trip abroad as Prime Minister - a get-to-know-you meeting which emphasised the importance attached by both France and Germany to the relationship.

Mr Kohl said that the Franco- German friendship was 'one of the most precious things we can have, in the second half of the twentieth century'.

Mr Kohl - looking a few pounds lighter, following his recent return from his annual slimming course - argued: 'The fantastic thing is that we have understood that we cannot defend exclusively German or French interests.'

Mr Kohl's talk of 'nuances' was amplified by Mr Balladur, who referred to the arguments over Gatt trade talks. France wants more support for its farmers, and Mr Balladur talked of his dissatisfaction on this point.

None the less, both sides were at pains to emphasise their unity on all the most important points that they discussed, including Russia, Bosnia, and the European recession. Mr Kohl declared: 'I look forward to our close and friendly co-operation.'

Some in Germany are cautious about the relationship. A commentary in Die Welt suggested that Mr Balladur, unlike President Francois Mitterrand, had shown 'no sign of seeking a particularly marked relationship with France's eastern neighbour'. Thus, Die Welt argued, it would also be wrong for Germany to commit itself unilaterally to a relationship which did not take account of the 'harsh realities'. The commentary concluded: 'Without damaging one's partner and without rejecting Balladur's outstretched hand, the Chancellor should be cautious.'

Mr Balladur's visit was billed as an introductory one for discussion of the fighting raging in the former Yugoslavia, the political crisis in Russia and the European economy.

He reportedly wanted to visit Germany just after his conservative alliance swept the Socialists out of office last month, but Mr Kohl was on holiday.

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