French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Angela Merkel in her electoral district on the Baltic Sea is about more than just talks on Alstom SA (ALO)’s future and the crisis in Ukraine.
He’s also getting a barrel of pickled herring.
Hollande, who’s touring the port city of Stralsund today as Merkel’s guest, is one of a select group of leaders to get a taste of the chancellor’s hospitality in her back yard rather than in Berlin. Most notable was President George W. Bush, for whom Merkel put on a Texas-style hog roast at a former East German collective farm in July 2006.
Merkel and Hollande, who head the two biggest euro-area economies, will probably discuss the bids by Munich-based Siemens AG (SIE) and General Electric Co. (GE:US) for the energy assets of France-based Alstom, according to a French government official who asked not to be named because the talks are private.
Hollande, commenting to reporters on arrival, said he and Merkel will talk about “the new Europe we want to build together” and “the most sensitive political issues” such as Ukraine. They plan to make a joint statement in Stralsund at 11 a.m. local time today.
Hollande was treated to a boat trip, a stroll on a sea-bridge pier and dinner at a seaside hotel. Though lacking the former U.S. president’s back-slapping camaraderie, he and Merkel are strengthening the relationship at the core of the euro area as the crisis in Ukraine thrusts them together against a resurgent Russia.
Relations are falling into place after Merkel backed Hollande’s election opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, and her government chafed at economic policies that underpinned Hollande’s victory in May 2012, according to an aide to Merkel who asked not to be named because the meetings are private.
“In terms of personality, these two are much more similar than Merkel and Sarkozy,” whose flashy impulsiveness contrasts with Merkel’s more reserved personality, Stefan Seidendorf, a political scientist at the German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg, Germany, said by phone.
As the 28-nation EU struggles to find a common voice on slapping Russia with further sanctions over Ukraine, German trade ties with Russia and Merkel’s channel to President Vladimir Putin are leading her to reprise the role of Europe’s pivotal leader that she had during the euro-area debt crisis.
Merkel and Hollande would have to help broker any EU agreement to impose further sanctions between supporters such as Poland and the Baltic states and reluctant governments in southern Europe, the aide to Merkel said.
Ukraine will also be a topic when Merkel, Hollande and other EU leaders hold talks on May 27 in Brussels, two days after European Parliament elections across the EU. They will meet again at a Group of Seven summit on June 4-5, followed by celebrations of the 1944 Allied landings in Normandy in World War II on June 6.
Hollande’s 20-hour stint in former East Germany included dinner with Merkel at a 1899-vintage beachside hotel on Ruegen and a walk to city hall in the 780-year-old Hanseatic trading port of Stralsund.
The chancellor’s gift for Hollande is a reminder of enmity that France and Germany have overcome: pickled herring named after Otto von Bismarck. He’s the Prussian chancellor who united Germany in 1871 after its forces defeated France in war.
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