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French, German Leaders Meet Amid Strained Relations - 2002-10-02

The leaders of France and Germany are preparing to discuss increased cooperation on issues such as the European Union's future and Iraq. The Paris meeting will be their first since German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's re-election last week.

Chancellor Schroeder made the decision to come to Paris at a low point in French-German relations. During Germany's recent election campaign, French President Jacques Chirac supported Mr. Schroeder's conservative opponent, Edmund Stoiber.

After his re-election, Mr. Schroeder did not make his first foreign visit to Paris - a tradition of German leaders. He went to London instead, to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Two of the most powerful EU members, France and Germany do not see eye to eye on critical European Union reforms.

Berlin wants European agricultural subsidies reduced. Paris is opposed. The two also have different visions of a future European Union, expected to include 10 new members by 2004.

But experts like Philippe Moreau Defarges at the French Institute for International Relations believe Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder must find common ground.

"The two countries know that they cannot divorce," said Mr. Defarges. "They cannot go their own way. They must live together for many reasons. That is why during the last months, during the last years the Franco-German relations have been quite cold. And they must go back to the table, back to the working table, and try to set up some proposals for Europe."

France and Germany also do not agree completely on Iraq. Mr. Schroeder finds himself increasingly isolated in the West, after declaring his opposition to an attack on Iraq. France, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, says military action might be acceptable if it had U.N. backing.

But Philippe Moreau Defarges and other analysts say the two countries might be able to adopt a common position.

"It is possible that France and Germany could find a common ground, on the idea that yes, something must be done about Iraq. Something must be done about Saddam Hussein, but we must stick to the international law," he said.

A German official says France and Germany might be able to present a united front in negotiating with the United States on other issues as well. The German coordinator for German-American cooperation, Karsten Voight, told France's Le Figaro newspaper that would benefit not only French-German cooperation, but also the interests of the European Union.