REIMS, France – The desecration of dozens of graves of Germans killed in World War I and buried in a French cemetery clouded a historic meeting Sunday by the leaders of the two nations, who urged Europeans to set aside economic worries and deepen their union.
In the medieval cathedral in Reims, France, a city battered by the two world wars, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the 50th anniversary of a meeting between France's Charles de Gaulle and Germany's Konrad Adenauer that paved the way for decades of cross-border partnership.
The Reims cathedral where the two leaders attended a special mass was where kings of France were long crowned, and was bombed by German planes in World War I. It was in Reims that Germans signed their surrender to the Allies on May 7, 1945, heralding the end of World War II in Europe.
On July 8, 1962, De Gaulle and Adenauer shook hands in a symbolic gesture meant to bury generations of enmity between France and Germany. On Sunday, Merkel and Hollande exchanged kisses on the cheek.
Today's leaders, whose countries are the biggest economies in the eurozone, acknowledged the challenges facing the shared currency as debts in smaller countries have affected the whole region and worry markets worldwide. The conservative Merkel and Socialist Hollande disagree on some key issues raised in seeking solutions to the crisis, including sharing debts across the eurozone.
"The economic union ... appears not to be strong enough," Merkel said, urging Europeans to "complete the economic and monetary union on a political level."
Hollande insisted that the French could keep some of their cherished national sovereignty but said the current crisis should push Europeans to speed up integration and force a "new start" for European unity.
He denounced vandals who desecrated at least 40 graves of Germans killed in World War I in a military cemetery in Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes in northern France on the eve of Sunday's meeting.
"No dark forces, much less foolish acts, can alter the deep movement of Franco-German friendship," he said.
The reason for the attack, not far from Reims in a region that saw battles in both world wars, was unclear. French authorities were investigating. France sees occasional cemetery vandalism, usually targeting Jewish or Muslim graves.
Hollande hailed de Gaulle and Adenauer for "the audacity to imagine a common future after so much pain" and their "greatness" for laying the groundwork for Franco-German friendship that became a basis for the European Union.
"Europe can emerge stronger from this crisis," Merkel said.
Hollande, known for his sense of humor, broke the somber mood by joking about the unusually blustery July weather. "It's weather like this that seals friendships," he said with a smile.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.