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    France Hosts German Political Leader

    German opposition leader Angela Merkel is in Paris for meetings with high-level French officials, including President Jacques Chirac. Ms. Merkel wants to send a message that she will continue supporting historically close bilateral ties, if she is elected Germany's next chancellor.

    Angela Merkel told reporters in Paris that the relationship between France and Germany was part of her tradition, and part of the tradition of her Christian Democrat Party. Ms. Merkel's spoke just after she met with President Chirac at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris.

    Many analysts believe that Ms. Merkel may very likely become Germany's new leader if the country holds elections in September. Polls show her party well ahead of the Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

    Aurore Wanlin, a researcher at the Center for European Reform in London, says Ms. Merkel's trip to Paris is a chance to buff up her international qualifications. A former East German, Ms. Merkel has focused largely on domestic politics.

    "She really does not know about France and she really does not know about the French-German relationship," she said. "She has a profile in Germany."

    Angela Merkel, right, meets with Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris
    Besides talks with Mr. Chirac, Ms. Merkel also met with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the country's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy - who also heads the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party.

    A strong French-German relationship was for years considered the motor of the European Union. Ties have been particularly close between Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder, who have presented a united front on many issues - most notably in their opposition to the war in Iraq.

    But more recently, the two countries have divided on several European subjects. French voters rejected the EU constitution, which the German parliament passed. And the two governments do not see eye to eye on the European budget.

    And despite some critics who suggest that the Franco-German axis is no longer relevant in Europe, Ms. Wanlin believes its still important.

    "When France and Germany manage to agree on a project, and to solve their differences and when they manage to convince the others to go along with them, then the European Union is in good shape," she said.

    In some ways Ms. Wanlin says, President Chirac has more in common with Ms. Merkel, despite his close relationship with the German chancellor.

    For example, she thinks Ms. Merkel is more supportive of keeping generous EU agricultural subsidies than Mr. Schroeder will be. On the other hand, Ms. Merkel has said she wants closer ties with the United States if she becomes Germany's next leader. France, Ms. Wanlin adds, may not be happy about that.

     

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