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France softens stance on start of EU-US free trade talks

Newly-named Ecology and Energy Minister Philippe Martin (R) shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande (2ndR) next to Prime Minist
Newly-named Ecology and Energy Minister Philippe Martin (R) shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande (2ndR) next to Prime Minist

BERLIN (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday talks to set up a free trade agreement between Europe and the United States could begin as long as efforts to clarify U.S. surveillance tactics start in parallel.

"The French position is that we cannot start trade negotiations if we don't have at the same time and date a discussion ... with the U.S. to investigate the activities of the U.S. intelligence services," he said in Berlin.

Earlier on Wednesday, France had said the talks should be delayed by two weeks given tensions over reports that Washington is spying on institutions in the 28-nation bloc.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union and the United States would initiate working groups on data protection issues at the same time as the free trade talks.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Noah Barkin and Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Stephen Brown)

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