PARIS - French and German presidents evoked the bloody lessons of World War I and hailed the emergence of a largely peaceful Europe Sunday, as they marked the centenary of Germany's declaration of war on France.
French President Francois Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck met in France's eastern Alsace region to lay the first stone of a memorial for French and German soldiers killed during what is called the Great War. Their meeting took place in Vieil Armand - known in German as Hartmannswillerkopf - where roughly 30,000 soldiers were killed during World War I. Today, memories of those bloody battles linger; one of the mountains is known as "the Eater of Men."
As he paid tribute to those fallen in the 1914-1918 war, Hollande evoked current conflicts in Ukraine, the Central African Republic and Gaza, in an appeal for peace.
Germany declared war on France exactly 100 years ago, as part of the fast-paced events that unleashed the greater European war that is being marked in ceremonies across the region this year. On Monday, European leaders gather in Belgium for the centenary of Britain's declaration of war on Germany.
Today, France and Germany are the powerhouses of the 28-member European Union. But while praising the peace, democracy and unity that emerged from the ashes of two World Wars, President Hollande also dwelt on the EU's shortcomings.
He said the EU appeared diminished during the recent economic crisis. It has failed to bring prosperity and live up to the ideals of many. He said Europe must open new perspectives for growth, employment, solidarity, but also for culture, education and knowledge.
The French and German presidents met a year ago in the French village of Ouradour-sur-Glane, where Nazi troops massacred nearly 650 people during World War II.