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Leaders Stress European Unity

As Kohl and Mitterand meet, relations are `very close,' despite convulsions in the East bloc. FRANCO-GERMAN SUMMIT

AS French President Fran,cois Mitterrand and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl prepare for a two-day Franco-German summit this week in Bonn, there are few signs of fissures in the relationship between the two countries. Many Europeans have long warned that the convulsive changes in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary would pull West Germany away from Western Europe. But there is a growing conviction that an opening of Eastern Europe will only serve to place Germany more firmly in the European Community (EC).

On the eve of a speech Mr. Mitterrand delivered last week before the European Parliament, in which he recommended quickening steps toward a European economic union as the best means to assist changes in Eastern Europe, the French president received Dr. Kohl for a private advance briefing.

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``That dinner between two leaders is the best symbol of very close and fundamentally solid relations,'' says an official with the French Foreign Ministry.

``Yes, events in Eastern Europe have caused an earthquake in European relations,'' adds R"udiger Stephan, a specialist in Franco-German relations in Stuttgart, West Germany. ``But the two pillars stand untoppled on the foundation of their relationship.''

Analysts here and across the Rhine say they expect the two-day meeting, which begins Thursday to demonstrate renewed emphasis on efforts to strengthen and hasten EC cohesion.

Both leaders understand the economic benefits a more unified Europe has already brought their countries, these analysts say, and support moving forward with measures such as monetary union to solidify Europe's place in the international market. But there is also a dawning conviction in both countries that the catalyst for East-bloc reform has been a peaceful and prosperous Western Europe as much as Soviet reform.

``It comes as a surprise to some French, who often don't have a clear picture of German thinking, but the first priority in Germany is generally preparation of the Europe of 1992,'' says Prof. Henri Menudier, a specialist in Franco-German relations at the Sorbonne.

He blames French journalists, ``who for the most part understand very poorly the German question,'' for perpetuating fears in France of ``an Eastward-drifting Germany'' or that a reunified Germany would lose interest in the European Community.

There are other reasons for a coolness in France toward German efforts to respond to Eastern-bloc change: a concern that Germany's economic dominance would only be heightened by increased ties with the East and questions about defense.

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Because of such concerns, Germany must ``still convince others that it considers itself European and intends to stay that way,'' says Dr. Stephan.

Many observers note that there is very little talk among Germans of ``reunification'' with East Germany. More common, they say, is discussion of ``union'' or ``confederation'' that implies maintenance of separate states.

``I know that the French and the English have trouble believing us when we affirm: Europe first, and only then a solution beyond partition,'' says Freimut Duve, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, writing in Le Monde recently. ``A majority of Germans [East and West] don't wish a return to a nation-state. Our goal is to belong to a united Europe.''

This week's meeting between Kohl and Mitterrand could produce a joint declaration on hastening European monetary union.

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