Merkel visits Paris on first trip as German chancellor


Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, told France it remained a key ally today at the start of a lightning tour intended to reassure her European Union partners she plans no major foreign policy changes.

Ms Merkel has said she wants better ties with the United States but sent a clear signal to the rest of the EU by deciding to visit Paris and then Brussels on her first full day as Germany's leader. She plans to visit EU president Britain tomorrow.

"I am confident we will manage to develop our cordial relationship," Ms Merkel told a news conference after talks with French President Jacques Chirac, who greeted her with a kiss on the hand at his presidential Elysee Palace.

Standing beside her, Mr Chirac said: "We are very touched by this show of friendship, this honour she is paying us today. I have told Mrs Merkel that in my view, and I know it is hers as well, the Franco-German relationship is something special."

Mr Chirac underlined the need for France and Germany to continue to be Europe's engine at a time when it faces major challenges, but without imposing their will on others.

"If we do not get on, the system becomes blocked and Europe is a bit like a car with a broken part," he said.

Ms Merkel, the first woman chancellor and the first from the former communist east, was confirmed by parliament yesterday.

She was due to spend two hours in Paris before going to Brussels to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the heads of NATO and the European Parliament. She meets British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London tomorrow.

Ms Merkel's predecessors, Gerhard Schroeder and Helmut Kohl, began with visits to Paris and pledged to uphold the Franco-German axis that has underpinned postwar German foreign policy.

Ms Merkel said the close relationship between Paris and Berlin was a "miracle", given a history of conflict including two world wars during the last century.

She also said eastern and central European states must continue to play an important role in Germany's European policies.