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European Ties

Merkel meets Hollande to talk EU vote, Russia standoff and other business

Angela Merkel is hosting Francois Hollande for informal talks. The conservative chancellor has championed austerity throughout the eurozone crisis, while Hollande has advocated stimulus during his two years in power.

Fresh from her US visit, Chancellor Merkel, of the Christian Democrats (CDU), and France's Socialist president will discuss a range of issues during their two-day visit, including the European Parliament elections in two weeks and a possible major bilateral corporate deal.

Divisions between Germany and France have faded in light of the EU‘s standoff with Russia over Ukraine. With some exceptions, the standoff has put a strain on Germany's relations with Russia, as well as made intra-EU relations all that much more important.

"Between us, the current flows without the need for an electric jolt," Hollande has said; Merkel has referred to an "alchemy" that "operates between us."

To further strengthen relations between the leaders, the schedule also included a rainy-day excursion to the island town of Sassnitz (pictured) and a sightseeing stroll past the Gothic red brick churches and medieval gabled houses of Stralsund. Merkel has rarely invited other leaders to the UNESCO Heritage-listed port, though the US president George W. Bush made the cut in 2006, receiving a barrel of pickled herring, the local speciality, and eating barbecued wild boar in a nearby village.

Unresolved issues remain

Merkel claims a robust economy and won a comfortable re-election in 2013, but still had to settle for a coalition with the rival Social Democrats to govern. Hollande faces economic and budget woes and suffered sweeping defeats in recent municipal polls.

In the race to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso as European Commission president, Merkel backs the conservative Jean-Claude Juncker - another previous Stralsund guest. Hollande favors the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz. However, ahead of the May 22-25 elections for the European Parliament, both leaders can find common cause for worry with the rise of populist and euroskeptic parties.

In addition to the elections, they will likely discuss a potential major business deal in which the German engineering giant Siemens has eyed a stake in the power-turbine factories owned by France's Alstom, against a bid from the US rival General Electric. Though France's government favors the offer from Siemens, German officials have publicly said that the companies involved must decide.

mkg/msh (AFP, dpa, AP)

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