June 19, 2013
France, Germany celebrate friendship amid crisis
The leaders of France and Germany joined in a symbolic celebration of unity, hailing a relationship that has brought peace to Europe for 50 years but must now prove it can survive its most serious crisis to date.
Taking a pause from more than two years of constant crisis management that has strained Franco-German ties, President Francois Hollande welcomed his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the city of Reims in eastern France.
The event replicated an encounter in 1962 between former French president Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, when the two leaders enshrined Franco-German ties in a city that once bore the brunt of shelling in World War One.
But while De Gaulle and Adenauer's encounter sealed a reconciliation after two wars, Sunday's meeting was held against a backdrop of acrimony over how to handle Europe's debt crisis.
"The European Union is going through a crisis - it won't be the first, it won't be the last," Hollande said in a speech by the giant double-doors of Reims' Notre Dame Cathedral, where French kings were once crowned. "But ... it forces us to move toward a new phase of development."
"Mrs Chancellor, I propose to you that we, together, walk through a new door to years that will make the friendship between our two countries even deeper," he added.
The meeting was a faithful reenactment of the 1962 encounter - down to the lunch menu. Even the rainy weather was the same.
Like their predecessors, Merkel and Hollande stood side-by-side to review a parade of French and German troops before listening to a children's choir in the cathedral's knave, where one of the most famous photographs of De Gaulle and Adenauer was taken.
Lunch, hosted by Michelin-starred French chef Philippe Mille, was a historical throwback: cold salmon, filet of beef with peas, braised carrots and potatoes, with raspberry macarons for desert. The meal was accompanied by three bottles of vintage Champagne from the region.