Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, made her first official foreign trip to Paris, in a symbolic affirmation of traditionally close French-German ties.
Just a day after being elected as Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel was in Paris holding luncheon talks with French President Jacques Chirac. At a joint press conference at the Elysee presidential palace, Mr. Chirac declared the two leaders had a common vision of Europe. And Mrs. Merkel formally invited Mr. Chirac to Berlin for another meeting next month.
Mrs. Merkel said French-German ties must be constantly supported, and she said traditional meetings Mr. Chirac had with her Socialist predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, would be pursued.
Mrs. Merkel's visit here has been closely watched, particularly by those who feared she would place less emphasis on the French-German relationship, which has traditionally been described as the motor of Europe. Before being elected chancellor, Mrs. Merkel said she wanted to pursue other ties, namely with other European countries and the United States.
And in a previous trip in July, Mrs. Merkel appeared to have a lot more in common with Mr. Chirac's political rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, than with the French president. Unlike Mr. Chirac, for example, both Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy oppose Turkey being a full member of the European Union at some future date.
But Marco Incerti, a researcher at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, says Mrs. Merkel's visit to France means bilateral ties between the two countries remain as critical as ever. But, he says, those ties are no longer enough.
"And in this respect, it's interesting to see that Angela Merkel is traveling to Paris today, but immediately after she will be coming to Brussels to meet with the [European] Commission and the president of the Commission, [Jose Manuel Durao] Barroso," he said.
Besides meeting with European Commission leaders, Mrs. Merkel will also be meeting with NATO's secretary-general. And on Thursday, she visits Britain for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.