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Airbus to Top Agenda at Merkel-Chirac Meeting

Pending job cuts at Airbus are expected to top the agenda at a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac in Germany on Friday.

German Labor Minister Franz Müntefering said on Thursday that the restructuring of Airbus should be "even-handed" amid German fears that its plants will bear the brunt of job cuts. "If the company must be restructured, then it should be in an even-handed way," Müntefering told journalists in Brussels on the eve of a French-German summit outside Berlin where the issue is to be discussed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac.

Tensions have arisen between Paris and Berlin this week over the crucial restructuring of troubled aircraft maker Airbus, a unit of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS).

The office of the French president announced on Thursday that Chirac was interested in finding a solution to the Airbus crisis with Germany "in the spirit of friendship" and based on a "fair division of efforts in the concern over jobs."

Postponed decision

EADS said Thursday it would make a decision on the details of its controversial restructuring plan for Airbus by early next month. "The board of directors of EADS will make its decision around the end of February," a spokesman said, adding that the decision would come before the March 9 release of EADS' full year earnings.

Airbus was forced to cancel a presentation of the plan earlier this week, due to disagreements between the core French and Germany shareholders of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), reportedly centered on where expected job cuts will fall.

National interests

Germany openly expressed its irritation on Tuesday after French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced that 10,000 jobs would be axed at the aircraft maker. But a German government spokesman said details of cuts and closures were still only "speculation."

Airbus employs some 21,000 people at seven sites in Germany and German officials are concerned that those sites will bear the lion's share of the cuts.

While the decision ultimately lay with the company's executives, Müntefering said it was normal that each country "advanced national industrial policy interests. The strength of German innovation should not be reduced," he said.

Good relations

The overall good Franco-German relations are not expected to be affected by the ongoing negotiations, a high-ranking German official told German daily Der Tagesspiegel on Wednesday.

"No, it's not weighing on relations" between the two countries, said Günter Gloser, who coordinates Franco-German relations for the government under Chancellor Angela Merkel. But it would be good "to think calmly about how to take into account both countries' expectations regarding future jobs," Gloser said.

The Merkel-Chirac meeting is the first to be held at the German government's new guesthouse, a restored 18th century baroque-style castle 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Berlin.

-ends- Airbus Job Losses to Top Agenda at Merkel-Chirac Meeting