Paris and Bonn march in step for Europe

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The Independent Online
AT A summit meeting rich in symbols, France and Germany yesterday prepared the way for 12 months of chairing the European Union in which they have pledged to co-ordinate their policies.

The two-day summit held in Mulhouse ended with President Francois Mitterrand announcing with Chancellor Helmut Kohl at his side that German soldiers would march down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees on 14 July for the first time since the German Second World War occupation.

Members of the 'Eurocorps', essentially composed of French and German troops and headquartered in Strasbourg, would form part of the annual Bastille Day parade, he said. The contingents from Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain would also be represented.

The gesture, announced before next weekend's commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy, is part of moves to smooth feathers ruffled by a celebration which excludes the Germans.

With Germany taking over the EU presidency on 1 July and France succeeding for the next six months, the two capitals have long been promoting the idea that they should present a united front. However, with Germany facing general elections during its presidency in the autumn, and France gearing up for presidential elections during its tenure next May, both may find that domestic political pressures get in the way.

The Mulhouse summit came after a rough patch in March when Francois Scheer, the French ambassador to Bonn, was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry for reported remarks that France feared Germany, by concentrating on East Europe, would turn its back on West Europe.

As in a conventional middle- class marriage, the partners have since been at pains to demonstrate that nothing is seriously wrong and the Mulhouse meeting followed that pattern. During the talks, Mr Kohl presented Mr Mitterrand with La Route de Louveciennes, a Monet canvas taken by the Germans from a French family during the occupation and held in a museum by East Germany until unification. It was one of 28 works of art which Germany is returning to France.

Electoral considerations apart, France and Germany may find it difficult to co-ordinate policies over the next year. Germany is anxious to open the EU to East Europe, while France fears further expansion will dilute the EU and make it little more than a free- trade zone. Reflecting this French view, Mr Mitterrand supported the thesis of Alain Lamassoure, his conservative European Affairs Minister, who wrote in Le Monde this week that Europe needed 'a new founding contract' allowing a hard core of members to pursue common policies such as creating a single currency, while others stayed outside such arrangements, raising the prospect of a 'two- speed' Europe.

Evidently referring to Baroness Thatcher, Mr Kohl said Europe should not become a free-trade area as promoted by 'one person'. Mr Mitterrand said: 'without lacking in respect to that person, one can say that she created some followers'.

France is also worried that German attention to East Europe might make it lose sight of what Paris views as another crucial problem - Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria. France fears this is about to bring a new wave of immigration, with its incumbent problems and even violence.