Germany, France on anniversary eye bolstered eurozone

France and Germany on Tuesday agreed to hammer out joint proposals for strengthening the crisis-battered eurozone as they marked 50 years since a treaty sealing their post-war reconciliation.

French President Francois Hollande (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrive at the French Embassy near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, on January 22, 2013. France and Germany on Tuesday agreed to hammer out joint proposals for strengthening the crisis-battered eurozone as they marked 50 years since a treaty sealing their post-war reconciliation.

Setting past tensions aside, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande put on a show of unity, even dropping past formalities and trumpeting their personal "chemistry".

At a joint news conference in the middle of a hectic agenda of pomp and ceremony marking the 1963 Elysee Treaty, Merkel said they planned to unveil by May new initiatives for "stabilising and deepening" the economic and monetary union.

Employment, growth, financial stability and competitiveness would be targeted in the proposals, to be laid out ahead of a European Union summit in June, she said.

"We are conscious of our great responsibility to improve the situation in the European Union, overcome the euro crisis, make economic growth possible and thereby also making the best model of European life... liveable and operational for the future," she said.

Hollande said they were working on making decisions in the coming months "to deepen economic and monetary union" and said they would try to be "as concrete as possible, that's to say, the most useful so that growth is strengthened".

Both countries' cabinets held a joint session followed by a debate in the historic Reichstag when a handful of the nearly 400 French lawmakers who had come to snow-bedecked Berlin to meet their Bundestag counterparts ventured several words in German.

Signed by then French president Charles de Gaulle and West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the Elysee accord formalised the cooperation between the former foes that has since been a building block of European unity.

But the half-century milestone comes amid strains in the Franco-German partnership and as the EU faces testing times over the debt burden of some eurozone members and euroscepticism in Britain.

That was papered over however when the two leaders, both 58, appeared relaxed and more at ease after reportedly agreeing to use the informal form of "you" in addressing each other.

They also sought to put the record straight about their rapport, with Merkel calling it "perhaps our best-kept secret that the chemistry is right" while Hollande said they were "on the same wavelength without needing any encouragement".

Merkel backed last year the re-election of conservative former French president Nicolas Sarkozy -- whose joint euro crisis-fighting efforts earned them the nickname "Merkozy".

And they have differed on the best approach for stemming the eurozone turbulence -- with Hollande pushing for fresh spending to bolster growth versus Merkel's pro-austerity mantra.

On military matters too, Paris and Berlin have limited cooperation, as the current crisis in Mali and Germany's non-intervention in Libya in 2011 have shown, but both leaders played down differences.

"We have once again shown clearly that we (Germany and France) are together," Merkel insisted to reporters, praising the "difficult" mission by French troops against Islamists in Mali.

And Hollande thanked Germany for its immediate "political solidarity" and material assistance after it pledged two military transport planes and humanitarian aid for Mali.

Both leaders earlier met figures from their countries' cultural scenes.

"There's a certain indifference (today) but that doesn't surprise me after 50 years of marriage," German film director Wim Wenders quipped.

Merkel also announced in front of lawmakers the setting up of a dialogue with employers and workers in Germany and France to draw up proposals on job protection and competitiveness.

A raft of other initiatives for stepping up cooperation were also agreed, including in the areas of economy, energy, education and diplomacy.

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Writer: AFP
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