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Germany: Schroeder And Blair Meet in London

  • Ben Partridge



London, 2 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- British officials say that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Prime Minister Tony Blair were expected to discuss the situation in Russia during their talks in London today. They were also due to discuss the world economic situation and the imminent launch of the European Union single currency, the euro.

Schroeder is in Britain for his first foreign visit since being confirmed as chancellor by the German parliament last week.

Both leaders have said they want to improve relations and to see more regular contacts between their governments, ending years of somewhat cool links between Bonn and London.

Schroeder has said he wants to upgrade ties with Britain, putting an end to the frictions caused by the former British Conservative government's hostility to further EU integration.

Blair, whose Labour Party last year ousted the Conservatives led by Prime Minister John Major, has pursued a more pro-European policy than his predecessor. He has said he wants Britain to play a leading role in the EU.

Blair said yesterday in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that his own "third way" and Schroeder's "new center" brand of politics were the same, and would dominate EU debate from now on.

Blair also said he would discuss with the German Chancellor how to extend the "third way" into EU policy-making as a whole, and how to tackle the slow-down in the world economy.

Schroeder's election has elevated the number of Left-led governments in the 15-nation EU to 11. But Blair's hard-edged economics may have more in common with former chancellor Helmut Kohl's Center-Right coalition than with the interventionist policies being pressed by Germany's new Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine, who is also chairman of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party.

Blair also said his government wants to be a leading partner in the EU, but not at the expense of the traditionally close Franco-German relationship.

Schroeder has already made it plain that cooperation with France will remain at the top of his agenda. Within days of his election triumph in late September, Schroeder went first to Paris, then to Washington, signaling the priorities of his foreign policy.

But on a visit to London last week, new German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Europeans should get away from what he called the "19th century idea of a balance of power." He said that Franco-German relations "have had tremendous importance, but if others join the engine in the future so that it can run on more than two cylinders, all the better."

One of the main items on today's agenda was the launch of the European single currency by 11 of the EU countries on January 1, seen as one of biggest EU projects since the founding Treaty of Rome. The debut of the Euro in just two months' time will create a single currency zone of 300 million people and the second largest economy in the world after the United States.

Britain, along with Sweden, Denmark and Greece, has chosen not to join the euro-zone, although Blair is expected to tell Schroeder today that his government wants to join up as soon as possible.

Schroeder was due to have talks with Blair this morning, hold a joint press conference, and then address the Confederation of British Industry later today.
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