French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in West Germany on a symbolic state visit, called today for an increase in European influence in world affairs.
Speaking from the balcony of Bonn's baroque town hall shortly after arriving, Giscard struck the theme his aides say will be the main message of his five-day trip -- the first state visit to West Germany by a French leader in 18 years.
"We have lived through the stage of reconciliation," said Giscard in slow, rehearsed German. "Now we must undertake common action to restore to Europe its influence in the world."
The statement captured both the dream and the danger of the strengthening Bonn-Paris tie.
Driven by a shared uncertainty about U.S. leadership, the renewed Franco-German closeness has emerged as the most powerful political alliance in Western Europe, carrying Europe on a tack sometimes at variance with what Washington would like.
While this state trip is less dramatic than the reconciliation staged by Charles de Gaulle visiting Konrad Adenauer in 1962, it is potentially more significant for what it signals about the rise of a major power axis within the Western alliance.
"Never have our two countries been linked so close together, never have they been so close," said Giscard in a dinner speech.
"It is up to our two countries, our two people," he added, "to protect Europe with joined forces from a threatening life in the shadow and the reestablish the due power and importance of Europe in the world."
The vision of a united, independent Europe is an old one but it has been given new life and potential by the increased cooperation between France and West Germany on a number of political and economic fronts.
West Germany's strong industry, hard currency and delicate politicking on the border between East and West complement France's strong agriculture, nuclear military force, Third World ties and independent diplomacy.
Warmer relations have also been enhanced by the personal friendship between Giscard and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- both former finance ministers who have built up strong power bases at home, have strong views on European unity and have worked well together. They have been meeting privately on the average of once a month.
This particular visit by the French leader seemed especially intended as Symbolic show of the vitality of the relationship. Giscard is scheduled to visit five middle-sized towns and meet four state premiers on a tour that reflects the diversity of common projects in the fields of defense, culture, technology and industry.
The West Germans are expected to provide pomp and pageantry to suit French tastes, beginning tonight with a state reception and a midnight fireworks display to the music of Handel at a castle near Bonn.
Giscard showed that he does not intend to let ceremony interfere with more relaxed demonstrations of Franco-German friendship. He waded into an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 well-wishers on Bonn's central market square, shaking hands and exchanging a few words in German. French aides say Giscard brushed up on his German in recent weeks in preparation for the visit.
"I want my visit to be a simple event. I want to be a visitor to whom the neighbors will open their doors," Giscard said later in dinner remarks.
Important talks on European defense and economic issues are also expected. Giscard and Schmidt held a 90-minute private meeting today, reportedly on East-West policy. Both leaders have held controversial talks with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev since Moscow invaded Afghanistan in December.
They share the view that cooperative relations with the Kremlin should be preserved, while they continue to object firmly to the Afghan occupation and to the growth of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
French presidential spokesman Jacques Blot said after today's meeting that Giscard and Schmidt "studied with interest" the new Soviet proposal for arms control talks on European-based nuclear weapons. Schmidt brought the proposal back with him from Moscow last week.
The two leaders also were said to have agreed on the importance of modernizing Western nuclear defense in the face of growing Soviet nuclear power in Europe. Schmidt last week complimented France's defense policy, endorsing Giscard's recently announced plans to develop the neutron artillery shell, an enhanced radiation weapon shelved by President Carter two years ago.