Scholz and Macron seek to reset strained relations with grand celebration – POLITICO

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PARIS/BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron will try to restart their troubled relations with a grand ceremony on Sunday as shared frustration over a new US law helps them bridge differences.

Paris and Berlin have been at loggerheads in recent months over defense, energy and finance issues, as well as Scholz’s controversial 200 billion euro package for energy price relief, which was announced last fall without involving before the French government. These tensions culminated in Macron snubbing Scholz by canceling, in an unprecedented manner, a planned press conference with the German leader in October.

Sunday’s Franco-German summit, which brings together both cabinets and a group of parliamentarians from both countries in Paris, also comes amid mounting pressure from Kyiv to provide Ukrainian forces with the means to fight Russian aggression. . The Ukrainians want tanks, particularly Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks, but they have also asked France to send Leclerc tanks.

“There are some major challenges in the defense and security sector, especially when it comes to how we can reduce dependence on the United States,” said Anton Hofreiter, chairman of the German parliament’s European Affairs Committee.

However, the Greens politician, one of Scholz’s Social Democrats’ coalition partners, also stressed that Paris and Berlin have increasingly found common ground in recent months when it comes to responding to the multi-billion dollar green subsidy package. of the US that has generated fears. to divert investment from Europe.

After publicly falling out last October, Scholz and Macron agreed on the need to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) by pushing for more subsidies for EU industries and easing state aid rules.

“I see the cooperation with France as a great opportunity,” Hofreiter said.

Sunday’s meeting takes place exactly 60 years after the signing of the Elysée treaty that German Konrad Adenauer and Frenchman Charles de Gaulle signed in 1962 to seal reconciliation between the two countries after World War II. Macron and Scholz will deliver speeches at the Sorbonne University in front of several hundred parliamentarians, before holding a joint cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace.

Patch up

The disagreements between Paris and Berlin in recent months have also been aggravated by the evident lack of personal affinity between the two leaders, in contrast to the public displays of affection between Macron and Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel.

“They don’t have the same temperament, nor the same history. They need to tame each one,” a French government adviser said after a meeting late last year. But “the more they see each other, the better they understand each other,” he added.

Before the summit on Sunday, an official at the Elysee Palace indicated that relations between Scholz and Macron had improved.

“We were able to use the [time] work on our big goals, to get the greatest momentum possible, especially on the European stage. So I think we are already there,” the official said at a press conference.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets German Chancellor Olaf Scholz | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Chantal Kopf, a German Green lawmaker who is closely concerned with Franco-German relations, noted that Sunday’s celebration comes just days after France signed a sweeping association agreement with its southern neighbor Spain, which mirrors many elements of the Franco-German treaty.

“This should be seen by us as a clear signal that France wants closer cooperation and is also looking for other partners to take a leading role in Europe,” Kopf said.

He also referred to Scholz’s ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, which often takes a long time to decide joint positions. “We as the German government must also act with more clarity and unity in decisions at the European level, so that we can coordinate with our closest partner, France, in time,” Kopf said.

France has been trying to convince its neighbor to back its plans for a robust response to the US IRA and support creating a sovereign wealth fund and easing EU rules on government subsidies. In an unofficial document submitted to the European Commission, France called on the EU to go ahead with a “robust and fast” Made in Europe strategy.

While Scholz and Macron want the EU to temporarily relax state subsidy rules to allow faster investment in strategic areas, France also wants the creation of an EU sovereign wealth fund to finance investment across the continent. The fund would be partially financed with money from existing programs.

However, Berlin fears that this opens the door to taking on more EU debt, which it strongly opposes.

In the final days leading up to the summit, officials were still struggling to get the two sides to agree on the wording of their joint statement.

But a senior German official struck an optimistic tone ahead of Sunday: “I strongly believe that we will find very good results that will create strong momentum,” he said.

sunday atmosphere

But some last-minute difficulties may mar Macron’s staging of the rekindling of Franco-German friendship. Although the Élysée Palace has announced that 300 German and French parliamentarians will gather to hear the leaders at the Sorbonne, the tally was not quite there on Friday. While more than 120 German lawmakers traveled to Paris to attend the meeting, only 71 French lawmakers said they would attend, according to a roll call vote by the National Assembly.

“It’s Sunday, which is a bummer for both the French and the Germans, but it’s also a season when [French] lawmakers tend to attend local new year ceremonies in their constituencies,” said a French official who works in the National Assembly.

“So we’re doing the rounds and rallying support,” he added.

If confirmed, the lack of enthusiasm from French lawmakers would embarrass the French government, after Paris signaled its disapproval in October when it learned that several German ministers were planning to skip a planned joint cabinet meeting.

For the 55th anniversary of the Élysée treaty, France also performed poorly compared to Germany. The French National Assembly was three quarters empty for the celebrations, while the French were welcomed by Merkel and a sellout in Berlin.

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