EU leaders meeting in Ypres to mark WWI centennial

VIRGINIA MAYO, JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG
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A red poppy wreath with an engraving of a World War I soldier is left at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. European Union heads of state will gather on Thursday for the first day of an EU summit in the city Ypres and will participate in a ceremony to commemorate the outbreak of World War I under the Menin Gate.  (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

A red poppy wreath with an engraving of a World War I soldier is left at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. European Union heads of state will gather on Thursday for the first day of an EU summit in the city Ypres and will participate in a ceremony to commemorate the outbreak of World War I under the Menin Gate. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

YPRES, Belgium (AP) — Where their countrymen once slaughtered each other with machine guns, artillery and poison gas, the leaders of Britain, Germany and other European Union member states are gathering Thursday to solemnly mark the 100th anniversary of World War I and rededicate themselves to peace and collaboration.

“We will commemorate the events of a hundred years ago,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a meeting with fellow Christian Democratic leaders in Belgian city of Kortrijk. “I believe this shows us again in which good times we live today because the European Union exists and because we have learned from history. That’s why I also hope that this will motivate us to take the necessary decisions for the coming five years.”

A Bench of Remembrance in front of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

A Bench of Remembrance in front of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

On Thursday evening in Ypres, EU leaders will attend the “Last Post,” a bugle salute to the fallen performed each evening at Menin Gate. The gate has been erected as a memorial on the main road where British and Commonwealth soldiers marched off to the front, many to never return. Over half a million soldiers perished in the flat and often muddy killing grounds of western Flanders in 1914-18.

The concerns and disagreements of today’s Europe won’t be ignored by EU leaders. Over dinner here, the 28 heads of state and government are supposed to discuss a “strategic agenda” for the next five years. Some EU leaders have demanded a drastic course correction following the success of political parties hostile to greater European integration in May’s European Parliament elections.

Red poppy wreaths are placed near names of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Red poppy wreaths are placed near names of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The leaders meet again Friday in Brussels to discuss numerous pressing matters, including possible new sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine and the choice of a new president for the EU’s executive arm, a rancorous issue that has pitted Britain against Germany, France and several other EU nations.

A man walks past poppy wreaths as he visits the Menin Gate ahead of an EU Summit in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

A man walks past poppy wreaths as he visits the Menin Gate ahead of an EU Summit in Ypres, Belgium on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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