EuropeTop StoriesWorld

Macron hails Scholz; Europe’s new power couple meets

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron (R) greets German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Elysee Palace, in Paris. – AFP

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron hailed a “convergence of views” with Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday as the German leader met his key EU and NATO allies. On only the second day since taking over from his long-standing predecessor Angela Merkel, Scholz plunged into talks with Macron in Paris then European Commission chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel in Brussels. France and Germany are traditionally the joint motor of European integration, and Macron was keen to get the powerful German leader on side as he embarks on a six-month presidency role in the EU and his own re-election campaign.

Later, Scholz – a Social Democrat who runs a coalition government with a Green foreign minister – he was due to see NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, amid tensions with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine top of the agenda. Macron and Scholz, both pro-EU figures, are the new tandem in charge of Europe’s biggest economies and both champion strengthening Europe’s “strategic sovereignty”, a key theme of Macron’s coming six months in the EU chair.

Addressing Scholz as “dear Olaf” and using the informal “tu” pronoun in French, Macron said he had seen “a convergence of views, a desire to have our countries work together, and a firm and determined belief in Europe… which we will need in the months and years ahead”. The visit was “a very important moment to build solid foundations for cooperation between our countries”, he added at a news conference. Scholz made Paris his first overseas stop after taking over on Wednesday Merkel at the end of her 16 years in power. He said the talks focused on “making Europe strong and European sovereignty”.

New agenda
Macron laid out an ambitious agenda Thursday for a “Europe that is powerful in the world” during France’s time as the rotating president of the 27-member Council of the European Union in the first half of next year. The 43-year-old wants to make further progress towards building up European defense capabilities and border forces, as well as devising ways of financing huge public investments in strategic industries considered vital for EU sovereignty.

Analysts say Macron’s desire for more flexible budget rules in the EU, enabling governments to run larger deficits, could run into opposition from a Germany that has historically insisted on financial rigor. Scholz said there was “not a contradiction” between wanting to finance ambitious investments to ensure growth, and solid public finances.

“For me, they are two sides of the same coin,” said Scholz, who was previously German finance minister and helped push through a historic EU fund for a COVID recovery last year that saw the bloc raise money collectively for the first time. The 63-year-old has long backed Germany’s trademark budget austerity goals, but he threw his weight behind the EU recovery fund to help Europe cope with the pandemic – going further than Merkel.

Russian tensions
As well as discussing the European Union, the two leaders also talked about the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, as well as relations with China and the African continent. “All must accept that borders in Europe cannot be changed. This rule is for everyone,” Scholz said in reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who has been accused by the US of planning an invasion of its neighbor. Scholz had warned Moscow on Thursday of “consequences” for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany and a major source of friction with many partners, including France.

As Western powers threaten punishing new sanctions against Moscow, the project could soon play a central role. “With Nord Stream 2, Germany has the big geopolitical weapon in its hand without ever having sought it,” said Ulrich Speck, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund. In Brussels, Scholz was greeted warmly by European Commission president von der Leyen, despite her hailing from Merkel’s defeated centre-right CDU party. “We know that Germany, a large country at the heart of the European Union, has a responsibility,” Scholz said, after separate talks with von der Leyen and Michel.

“We can’t just stand at the sidelines and comment on what’s going on. No, we have to get in to the midst of it all and make a contribution to ensuring progress and a bright future in Europe and that’s how we see our role.” Political scientist Andrea Roemmele of the Hertie School of Governance said she expects closer cooperation with Paris on security policy under Scholz. But with the French presidential elections looming next year, Berlin will likely “take a wait-and-see stance” on projects, particularly given the threat of a strong showing by the far right. – AFP

 

Back to top button