"France is our closest partner in Europe. It would be good if the Socialists there would now courageously embark on real structural reforms," Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc, said last week. "That would be good for the country and so for Europe."

Speaking at the conference after Ayrault, the head of Germany's influential BDI industry lobby group insisted that both, Germany and France, must be economically strong to continue leading the European Union.

"There is no Europe in which Germany and France do not play in the same league," said Hans-Peter Keitel. "You cannot separate us," added Keitel, who has met twice with Hollande this year.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking at the same conference, said European nations who jointly make up the world's biggest economy should not give each other marks but work together.

"The world needs a strong Europe," he said.

Ayrault, in turn, said the "overly high level of preoccupation in Germany" over the euro crisis may be due to the fact that Germany will hold national elections next year. "Then tensions are always on the rise," he told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview.

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Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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