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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Merkel, Chirac Call for Fair Airbus Plan

MESEBERG, Germany -- The leaders of Germany and France said Friday that a looming restructuring of Airbus should strike a balance in jobs and technological know-how between the countries.

At a summit north of Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac sought to present a united front amid a dispute between Airbus shareholders over the work share on the troubled European plane maker's new A350 mid-sized plane.

The French-German dispute has delayed a restructuring plan expected to lead to some 10,000 job cuts in both countries at Airbus, which competes with U.S.-based Boeing in the global market for large commercial jets.

"Chancellor Merkel and President Chirac stand behind Airbus as the company takes decisions in the coming days to strengthen its competitiveness," the two leaders said in a joint statement. "At the same, time they expect that a balance in terms of jobs, technology and competencies will be ensured in the affected countries."

As Airbus decides where to cut jobs, it is also mulling where work on new jet programs will be located. Germany does not want to give its neighbor the bulk of these new projects for fear that it could fall behind in coveted highly skilled jobs.

Airbus chief Louis Gallois has tinkered with his original plans to try to meet German demands for a bigger share of the jobs from the next generation of Airbus jets, a union source said Thursday.

The restructuring is contentious in both countries, where 40,000 of Airbus's 55,000 employees work in 11 factories.

Both Merkel and Chirac said it was ultimately up to company management to decide on the details of the restructuring, with the German leader stressing Airbus's competitiveness against archrival Boeing was the main priority.

Wiring problems with the Toulouse, France-based company's flagship A380 super jumbo jet have led to costly delays in delivering the plane to airlines, driving Airbus into a loss last year and forcing it to reassess its entire production process.

But Chirac set out clear conditions, which he said managers at Airbus' parent, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., would have to meet as they struggle to get the firm back on track.

"There can be no forced redundancies -- this is something which was clearly stated -- and no site closures without some organization or compensation," Chirac said.

The French leader, who is keen to avoid embarrassing job cuts in the final months of his presidency, said he hoped EADS would unveil its plans very soon. The company is under pressure to agree on a plan by March 9, when it publishes its 2006 results.

"It is a hot-wire issue in both countries but more so in France because of looming elections," said Francois Heisbourg of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is locked in a battle with Socialist Segolene Royal to succeed the 74-year-old president after two-round elections scheduled for April and May.

At the news conference, Chirac worked hard to play down the differences with Germany over Airbus, saying cooperation between the allies was essential.

"Each time France and Germany have had diverging points of view in past years, Europe has stopped," Chirac said.