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German conservative leader sees 'no rift' with France over EU vision

German conservative leader sees 'no rift' with France over EU vision
FILE PHOTO: Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks at her party's conference on migration, integration and security topics in Berlin, Germany, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo -
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BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of Germany's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) on Monday played down her differences with French President Emmanuel Macron over his vision for Europe, expressing confidence the two countries could find common ground.

Last week Macron called for fundamental reform of the EU in a newspaper column published in each of the 28 member states, saying nationalism posed a growing threat to the bloc in the countdown to European Parliament elections in May.

At the weekend, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - a protege of Chancellor Angela Merkel and in pole position to succeed her - offered some overlap with Macron's vision, while also warning against too much centralisation.

"There's no rift," Kramp-Karrenbauer told Welt television on Monday when asked how deep the divisions were between France and Germany on how to strengthen the EU.

She said progress in EU policy was always made when Germany and France's traditionally different points of view came together, adding: "We're in that phase now."

In her weekend opinion piece for the Welt am Sonntag weekly, Kramp-Karrenbauer rejected Macron's call for a European minimum wage and warned against collective debts, reflecting entrenched resistance in Berlin to any moves that could make Germany liable for other states' debts.

Her response to Macron helped to fill a void left by Merkel, who had left her spokesman to say last week that Germany supports discussions about the EU's future.

On Monday Merkel's spokesman said: "Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer has now - and this is good and important - presented the CDU's proposals and they are in accordance with the chancellor's thoughts."

Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Monday she agreed with Macron on protecting the EU's external borders, on security and defence policy and on an internal European banking market for banks.

"The fact that the CDU has a different political view on the issue of redistribution, on the issue of completely uniform social standards ... than the French is nothing new," she said.

In her weekend opinion piece, Kramp-Karrenbauer also said a joint EU innovation budget should fund new technologies, tax loopholes should be closed in the bloc and a digital tax introduced based on an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) model.

(Reporting Michelle Martin and Andreas Rinke; Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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