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Foreign Relations

Merkel visits Hollande in Paris

Germany's freshly re-inaugurated chancellor Angela Merkel has flown to Paris with her new foreign minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier. Both vowed to reinvigorate Europe's Franco-German "motor."

Angela Merkel appeals for "more Europe"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her third term Wednesday by visiting neighboring France, just ahead of a two-day EU summit in Brussels. Talks were likely to focus on Ukraine's EU-Russia wrangle and French military missions in Africa.

Arriving for dinner in Paris with French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Merkel said both countries could "now begin a new epoch."

Her first trip abroad in her new, third term emphasized the "special importance of Franco-German relations," Merkel added.

Hollande said both nations had time until their next general elections in 2017.

"We have a common horizon, which must become a common agenda," Hollande added.

Merkel and Steinmeier (right in picture) were due to discuss with Hollande both preparations for a German-Franco summit on February 19 - ahead of European Parliament elections - and World War I commemorations.

Merkel said the EU summit beginning on Thursday would "give us the opportunity to make progress in the area of [European] banking union."

Friendship 'irreplaceable'

Departing Berlin earlier on Wednesday, Steinmeier described Franco-German relations as an "irreplaceable" friendship.

Social Democrat Steinmeier belongs to the same European center-left political camp as Fabius, whereas Merkel heads Germany's conservatives.

On Tuesday, Merkel's grand coalition government, comprising her conservatives and Social Democrats, including Steinmeier, was inaugurated in Berlin.

Africa in French focus

At Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, Hollande was expected to appeal to other European nations to bolster a French peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic beyond existing logistical aid.

On Wednesday, French European Affairs Minister Thierry Repentin said Germany and Britain were considering sending troops. Both countries had denied that on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer denied that any German personnel would enter the African country.

"I am not aware of any such plans at the Foreign Ministry," he said.

The French-African mission to restore order in the Central African Republic is France's second intervention this year after ousting Islamist rebels in Mali, another former African colony.

Next stop - Poland

On Thursday, Steinmeier, who also served as German foreign minister between 2005 and 2009, visits another neighbor, Poland.

In Warsaw, he is due to have talks with Polish President Bronislav Komorovski and Foreign Minister Rodoslav Sikorski.

ipj/ph (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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