Keeping Europe’s Franco-German alliance on track. Germany’s conservative leader Angela Merkel, who is widely expected to become chancellor, has been visiting French president Jacques Chirac in Paris. While she acknowledges the importance of relations between Paris and Berlin, she has made no secret of her scepticism of the cosy partnership built by Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. She has criticised both men for damaging relations with the United States by fiercely opposing the war in Iraq, and has called for an overhaul of EU policy, urging closer ties to the new member states. During her visit, Merkel also held talks with prime minister Dominique de Villepin as well as Chirac’s rival interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Merkel’s Christian Democrats hold a 15-19 percent lead in opinion polls ahead of a probable general election in September.