French President Francois Hollande has been visiting Berlin to celebrate 50 years since the signing of the Elysee Treaty. He joined Chancellor Angela Merkel for a question and answer session with students.
Merkel began with a relaxed tone at the event on Monday evening, which saw 200 young German and French people invited along to the chancellery.
She referred to the signing of the document - the cornerstone of post-war reconciliation between the two countries - on January 22, 1963, in the Elysee Palace in Paris.
"When the Elysee Treaty was signed, we were both eight years old," the chancellor observed, prompting laughter from the audience.
The treaty obliged both countries to hold regular ministerial meetings and to consult on foreign and defense policy. However, there was room for improvement where this was concerned, said Hollande.
"Can we work more closely on defense? I would hope so," said the French president. "It is anachronistic that we don't move together more closely when it comes to foreign and defense policy."
'Different traditions, solid support'
Both policy areas have been thrown into the spotlight by the conflict in Mali, where France is engaged in a land and air mission alongside Malian government forces fighting Islamist insurgents. Germany has been providing logistic support to the operation.
Both countries had their different traditions, said Merkel, with France more experienced in Africa than Germany. However, she said, Berlin would always support its neighbor where possible.
"Step by step we will always weigh up what we can and can't do. One thing is also important: that we don't leave each other high and dry. We are partners."
The meeting was followed by a working dinner and represented the opening of formal celebrations of the anniversary.
On Tuesday, Merkel and Hollande were to deliver speeches in front of about 1,000 lawmakers from both countries during a joint parliamentary session in Germany's Reichstag building in Berlin.
rc/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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