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France, Germany try to revive embattled EU project

Aachen, Germany

THE leaders of France and Germany signed a new treaty on Tuesday to update their 1963 post-war reconciliation accord, aiming to reinvigorate the European Union's (EU) main axis as growing eurosceptic nationalism tests the bloc's cohesion.

At a warm ceremony in the German border city of Aachen, a historical symbol of European concord, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron sought to show they are ready to give fresh leadership to the troubled EU project.

The leaders want the 16-page Aachen Treaty, negotiated over the past year to update the 1963 Elysee Treaty of post-war reconciliation, to give an impulse to European unity that has been strained by Brexit, immigration and the eurozone crisis.

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"We are doing this because we live in special times and because in these times we need resolute, distinct, clear, forward-looking answers," said Mrs Merkel, noting Aachen was home to Charlemagne, whom she dubbed "the father of Europe".

Mr Macron added: "At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within, when Europe is shaken by the pains of Brexit and worried by global changes that go far beyond the national level ... Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward."

Short on detail, the treaty extension commits to closer foreign and defence policy ties but does little to push forward eurozone economic reform.

Sabine von Oppeln, expert on Franco-German ties at Berlin's Free University, said of the slow progress on eurozone reform: "The German side is not responding to Macron's ideas, which are of course also driven by national interests."

She added: "This could be an opportunity for a real renewal of cooperation but I fear the chance has been lost."

Franco-German treaties are supposed to be milestones in the process of European integration, paving the way for the bloc as a whole to deepen cooperation.

"Today Europe needs a revival of faith in the meaning of solidarity and unity, and I want to believe that enhanced Franco-German cooperation will serve this objective," said European Council chief Donald Tusk, who attended the ceremony with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

However, Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron, both of whom have struggled to maintain their authority over their own domestic politics, have failed this time to produce the wide-ranging vision to really enthuse europhiles.

The Aachen document stipulates that it will be a priority of German-French diplomacy for Germany to be accepted as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Germany has for years sought greater influence within the international body, to which its closest allies the United States, Britain and France belong.

While making clear that Germany and France remain committed to the EU and Nato defence alliance, the agreement also signals that Berlin and Paris will combat efforts by some nationalist politicians in Europe to erode the 28-nation EU.

Facing new challenges from US President Donald Trump in the United States as well as EU governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary, Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron are keen to head off any breakthrough for eurosceptic parties in a European Parliament vote in May. REUTERS