Franco-German Ties Not So Frayed

No relief for France on interest rates, but Germans back French complaints about US-EC farm accord

AS if to prove that the German-French axis has not fallen apart after all, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has reversed his position on world trade, agreeing with his French counterpart that an already settled accord on farm trade should be reopened for discussion.

At a joint press conference in Bonn given by Chancellor Kohl and French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur yesterday, Kohl said that if a quick and reasonable agreement is to be reached on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), then "we must find a compromise for all concerned." It does not help, he said, to "put the French on the dock" on farm issues.

Kohl admitted that the Blair House agreement - a farm trade accord between the United States and the European Community - "contains some problems for us as well" and that since parts of the accord are unacceptable to the French, a compromise is needed.

As early as Aug. 30, the French will present Kohl with proposals on agricultural policy and both capitals will work together to forge a common approach before EC foreign and agricultural ministers meet in Brussels Sept. 20.

Paris may be happy about German support on farm policy, but the French also took a hit yesterday when the German central bank decided to leave its leading interest rates unchanged.

High German interest rates sparked a crisis in the European Monetary System this summer and is one reason why Bonn-Paris relations have been suffering recently.

Both leaders agreed yesterday to hold to the 1999 deadline, as agreed in the Maastricht Treaty, for a single European currency. This had come into question earlier due to a recent remark by Kohl that the deadline could be delayed by several years.

The two said they would meet the 1994 deadline of establishing a European Monetary Institute, the precursor to a European central bank. They said they would work hard to ensure that their economies met the convergence criteria for a single currency.

After a summer of disunity among EC members, it was important that Paris and Bonn walk in step on the issue of European unity, European diplomats said yesterday. "The important thing is that they are back working together," said one European diplomat at the press conference.

Kohl and Balladur went to great lengths yesterday to confirm the strong relationship between their two nations, and to emphasize the importance of the Bonn-Paris axis for Europe.

With differences over Bosnia, GATT, and economic policy, it has been rough going for the postwar partners. Yet, one hardly would have guessed the relationship was in trouble given the public statements of both country's agriculture and foreign ministers, who also met this week.

"You see, we are holding each other by the arm, we are very close," said French Agriculture Minister Jean Puech about his German colleague, Jochen Borchert. Politicians on both sides of the Rhine played down current tensions as normal in the marriage of postwar Germany and France. Yet the marriage has changed.

Politically and geographically, Paris is now more "on the periphery of the new Europe," says Jochen Thies, foreign editor for the German daily, Die Welt. Financially, France has suffered under Germany's interest rates, which have been kept high to pay for unification.

Still, politicians and pundits admit there is no alternative to Franco-German cooperation. "When the two big European Community countries aren't in harmony, it casts a shadow over Europe, and nobody wants that," a German official says.

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