Paris: It was not the usual setting for high-level diplomacy, but a France-Germany football match at a Paris stadium on Wednesday evening gave Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel the chance to meet privately on the eve of a key EU summit.
Both football fans, the German chancellor and the French president put their sporting rivalries aside for 45 minutes before the match, a French presidential advisor told AFP, pledging to find “a good agreement” at the summit on the 27-member bloc’s budget for the next seven years.
Sitting side by side in the stands, the two leaders bonded over their common love of the game.
“All that is as exciting as a European summit,” quipped Merkel on French television, adding that it was “nice to be at the Stade de France for the first time”.
“She likes football, you can tell,” Hollande said.
In talks before the game, the two leaders “set out their desire to see EU heads of state and government reach a good agreement on the financial perspectives” of the 2014-2020 budget, the presidential advisor said.
The two-day summit is already shaping up to be tense, with the only certainty being that proposals for several years will be cut back.
One group among those countries that contribute the most, led by Germany and Britain, wants spending cut from the current level of about one percent of EU gross domestic product.
Another group, led by France and Italy, wants spending kept at a higher level and targeted more at investment likely to create jobs at a time when 26 million people are unemployed in the EU.
A spokesperson for Merkel confirmed that the two leaders had had “a short but intense meeting” ahead of the summit “to see what kind of agreement could be made”.
The Elysee has denied any “deep disagreement” between them, saying that Merkel and Hollande had already set out their respective positions during celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Elysee Treaty in Berlin two weeks ago.
Though they may be united on finding an agreement on the budget, their views on the rising value of the euro are very different.
Earlier Wednesday, Germany rejected French fears that the currency is overvalued and could hurt economic growth, saying that interest rates should not be used to boost competitiveness.
Wednesday’s match ended in a 2-1 win to Germany who came from behind to steal their first victory from France since 1987.