Paris attacks jump-start Merkel-Hollande motor: Analysts

 It was a gesture that surprised many who view the German chancellor as an unemotional, calculating woman: On seeing the French president after the January attacks that killed 17, she rested her head on his shoulder, a touching display of compassion and empathy.

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 10, 2015, 16:10 PM IST

Paris: It was a gesture that surprised many who view the German chancellor as an unemotional, calculating woman: On seeing the French president after the January attacks that killed 17, she rested her head on his shoulder, a touching display of compassion and empathy.

And many analysts say that the Islamist attacks on Paris pulled the leaders of France and Germany together as never before, with the fruits of this closer co-operation now showing in their joint push for peace in Ukraine.

Desperately worried by the conflict just a couple of hundred kilometres (miles) away on the outskirts of Europe, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel concocted a last-ditch peace plan, then flew to Kiev and Moscow to sell it.

"We have never had such a high level of co-operation with another delegation during a negotiation," said one French diplomatic source. "With the Germans, it`s top drawer."

When Hollande came to power, many thought his style could lead to closer personal ties with Merkel, despite them hailing from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

His understated manner, in contrast to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who earned the sobriquet "President Bling Bling", was expected to appeal more to Merkel, the quiet but powerful daughter of a Protestant pastor.

Both football fans, they bonded watching France and Germany clash on the pitch, even taking to the television screens afterwards to give their analysis of the game.

But clashes over the economy in Europe, with Hollande unable to steer Merkel far from the path of austerity she saw best for debt-wracked countries like Greece, cooled ties, until the attacks.

"On an emotional level, they really came together after the attacks on Paris," said Stefan Seidendorf, from the Franco-German Institute (DFI) in Luedwigsburg, western Germany.

"She was the first to phone him after the attacks. She was also the first to promise that she would be at the march" that attracted millions throughout France to demonstrate against terrorism and for free speech, said Seidendorf.

"The shock of the attacks showed everyone that the Europeans are all in the same boat."The concrete manifestation of the personal rapprochement between the two leaders has been the fresh push for peace in Ukraine -- another topic where France and Germany have been in lockstep.

"There is a hardening of the conviction that they have common values and that the security of Europe is at stake," said Claire Demesmay, from the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

A Hollande advisor confirmed this. "In the past few weeks, there has been a phone call or a meeting every day."

"Everyone has understood that Paris and Berlin cannot do anything without the other. When they get together, we`re talking about 150 million people and the top two economies in Europe," said this advisor.

Seidendorf drew an analogy to a bickering couple that have put aside petty arguments to focus on a genuine crisis.

"They have got together and prioritised what they have in common," he said.

While there are still likely to be occasional spats, especially over economic policy, they have found common ground in their working methods, added the expert.

"They are both very analytical, weighing up the balance of power, possible compromise options," he said.

"They have the same composure ... Angela Merkel also likes Hollande`s sense of humour," he added.